Handbook of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts - Part 2

Part 2

[Portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds by Himself Mezzotint by Valentine Green, 1739-1813]

Portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds by Himself Mezzotint by Valentine Green, 1739-1813

[The Breaking up of the Agamemnon. Sir Francis Seymour Haden, 1818-1910]

The Breaking up of the Agamemnon. Sir Francis Seymour Haden, 1818-1910

The subject of this large etching is the breaking up of one of England's famous old ships of war, called the Agamemnon. Haden was not only a surgeon eminent in his profession, but also one of the greatest of English etchers. The revival of interest in etching during the XIX century in England was largely due to his efforts. Characteristic works of Whistler and Meryon are ill.u.s.trated below.

[Weary, Dry-point, by James McNeil Whistler, 1834-1903]

Weary, Dry-point, by James McNeil Whistler, 1834-1903

[La Gallerie Notre-Dame, Etching by Meryon, 1821-1868]

La Gallerie Notre-Dame, Etching by Meryon, 1821-1868

[The Diggers, Etching (Third State), by F. Millet, 1814-1875]

The Diggers, Etching (Third State), by F. Millet, 1814-1875

Our print collection is notably rich in the work of Millet. The etchings are all fine impressions, in some cases exceptional in quality. The collection also includes Millet's lithograph, The Sower, and his rare heliogravure, Maternal Precaution. Of the six wood-engravings drawn by Millet and cut by his brothers, three are represented in the collection.

Millet was a thoughtful artist, to whom the spirit of things was at least as important as their visual aspect. His deep and sincere sympathy with the life of the peasant, to whose cla.s.s he himself belonged, determined to a large extent his choice of subject. But Millet never descended to anecdotal trivialities; he avoided the pale sentimentality of such a painter as Jules Breton. His thought, like his technique, was virile, positive, honest. Millet was far above any trickery, either of thought or of execution.

The very intensity of his intellectual interests led Millet to evolve a personal style that is distinguished by its simplicity and directness. As an artist, Millet is more allied to Durer than to Rubens. Color plays but a small part in his pictures. Significant, expressive line is the first essential of his art, and with this simple means he secures a surprising effect of plastic form. When color is added to outline, he is primarily interested in establishing accurately the values of the different planes.

Both in his use of line and of ma.s.s, it is Millet's invariable practice to simplify, omitting everything that is not essential to his purpose.


[Plate, with Floral Design Asia Minor, XVI Century]

Plate, with Floral Design Asia Minor, XVI Century

The art of the Nearer Orient is the product of many races. The phrase covers in general the art of India, Persia, Syria, Mohammedan Egypt, Turkey, and even, in certain aspects, the art of Spain, Portugal and southern Italy. Although the development of this art was by no means uniform or along the same lines, the products are all related in style, which is unmistakable and distinct from other types of design. The most typical manifestation of this style would appear to have originated in Egypt about the time of the Mohammedan conquest in 638 A. D., and almost simultaneously in Syria and northern Persia. Since the Koran forbade the representation of any living creature, Mohammedan artists developed the so-called arabesque style, based on geometric and floral motives. This limitation, however, was not observed by the Persians, who introduced human and animal life into their designs with beautiful results.

[Two Fragments of Bowls, Persian, Rhages, XIII Century. Left: Polychrome Decoration. Right: l.u.s.tred Decoration]

Two Fragments of Bowls, Persian, Rhages, XIII Century. Left: Polychrome Decoration, Right: l.u.s.tred Decoration

The earliest l.u.s.tred ware of Persia is that found in the ruins of the ancient city of Rhages. This prosperous city was destroyed in 1221 during the Mongol invasion. It may be a.s.sumed that most of the fragments found in the tumuli at Rhages date from the early years of the XIII century.

Non-l.u.s.tred pottery with polychrome decoration was also produced at Rhages during this period.

The mosque doors, from Ispahan, ill.u.s.trated on the opposite page, are particularly fine examples of Persian wood carving. The arabesque designs are especially beautiful. The inscriptions in the upper and lower small panels have been translated as follows:

Panel, Upper Right: Oh G.o.d, do not indifferently drive me from your door.

Panel, Upper Left: For if you do, there will be no other door open to me.

Panel, Lower Right: Oh, my heart, do not be far off from the door of those who are sincere and faithful.

Panel, Lower Left: Anyone who is far from the door is near to G.o.d.

[Velvet Brocade Turkish, XVI Century]

Velvet Brocade Turkish, XVI Century

[Mosque Doors, Carved Wood, Persian, about 1500]

Mosque Doors, Carved Wood, Persian, about 1500


[Autumn, Six-fold Screen, by Yeitoku, 1543-1590]

Autumn, Six-fold Screen, by Yeitoku, 1543-1590

In the middle of the VI century of the Christian era, Buddhism was introduced into j.a.pan by way of Korea. Through the vehicle of this new religion, Chinese art began to exert a fructifying influence upon the native art of j.a.pan, which up to this time had achieved nothing worthy of mention. Chinese influence continued in succeeding ages a potent factor in the development of j.a.panese art. In the art of the Suiko (552-644), Hakuho (645-709), Tempyo (710-793), Jogan (794-899), and Fujiwara (900-1190) periods, the inspiration was largely Chinese, but more and more the native genius manifested itself in modifications of the spirit and technique. This evolution toward a distinctive national art and culture made considerable advances in the Fujiwara period, which ended in social revolution and the establishment of a military vice-royalty at Kamakura.

The Kamakura period (1190-1337) is the feudal era of j.a.pan. The spirit of individualism and hero-worship which distinguishes this age brought about a great development in portraiture, even the G.o.ds a.s.suming a more individualized character. Battle scenes and the achievements of famous warriors and heroes were popular subjects. To overawe the populace, religious artists for the first time pictured the horrors of h.e.l.l.

Forceful delineation and the vigorous expression of action are characteristic of Kamakura art.

Zenism, a metaphysical doctrine introduced from China to j.a.pan in the Kamakura period, had a very great influence in the succeeding Ashikaga period (1337-1582) in shaping the course of art. The Zen sect of Buddhism, discarding ritual, sought salvation through self-concentration and meditation. Subjective idealism and the search of the inner spirit of things, fostered by Zenism, led the Ashikaga artists to practice a rigorous economy of means, eliminating color in general and all details not essential to the expression of the artist's idea. The search for the hidden beauty in all things was not confined to the major arts but led to the beautification of the humblest household utensils. In the ornamentation of sword guards the metal workers showed extraordinary ability. The Ashikaga era ended in turmoil. In 1582 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a man of the humblest origin, brought order out of chaos, and became virtual ruler over a unified j.a.pan.

[Winter, Six-fold Screen, by Yeitoku, 1543-1590]

Winter, Six-fold Screen, by Yeitoku, 1543-1590

Under the patronage of Hideyoshi and his enn.o.bled generals, the sober refinement of Ashikaga art gave way to gorgeous decoration, resplendent with gold and brilliant colors, that shows the influence of the mature Ming style of China. The leading artist of this period in j.a.pan was Yeitoku (1543-1590), who with his numerous pupils painted sumptuous decorations for the palaces of the wealthy n.o.bles. By Yeitoku are the two large screens ill.u.s.trated above. This artist created perhaps the greatest purely decorative style of painting that the world has ever known.