« VorigeDoorgaan »
Surley Hall, and hedged about with hurdles to keep off the crowd of inferior souls, who did not belong to the boating fraternity. Lower boys gaped through the bars to see the lions feed, craving scraps from the great ones like dogs at a rich man's table, and their importunacy was sometimes rewarded by glasses of champagne.
Carving with elbow nudges,
Lower boys drink it blind,
was a very fine description of our saturnalia, and it was a common thing to ply a small boy with liquor to see how much he could stand. The lower boy, not having a seasoned head, frequently found his feet too few for him on his way back to his tutor's, and got into trouble in consequence.
This crowd of youngsters clamouring for food and drink outside the hurdles was not an edifying spectacle, and the authorities have since wisely changed the venue of the feast to a more private place. As for the old salts, they took care to eat plenty as well as drink, so that if there was a little difficulty in getting into the boat with that neatness and skill which you would expect of a good waterman, the row down stream nearly always brought surrounding objects into their proper places. After all, to stand up in an eight-oar with saluting oars is a great test of sobriety, perhaps better than 'British Constitution' pronounced at the police station, and the former test we always had awaiting us. It was well if the boat was musical, for a chorus was sure to arise on the journey down stream, or passing through Boveney Lock. Then, as it grew darker and darker, the cox's voice yelling his orders, and 'Look ahead, sir,' would become more insistent and louder, till it became merged in the clash of the Windsor bells and the cheers from the bank as you slowly approached Brocas Eyot. A few strokes, and the captain gave the word of command, and you raised your oar in the air, climbed up it like a monkey, and stood while you floated by the row of fireworks on the eyot spitting and sometimes sputtering at you. This habit of the men who let off the fireworks excited the censure of the young lions of the Eton College Chronicle in 1876, in language worthy of a leading article of The Times. We cannot conclude without expressing a hope that on the next Fourth of June Mr. Brock and his assistants will refrain from discharging fireworks at the boats, as such a proceeding neither adds to the impressiveness of the scene, nor conduces materially to the comfort of the crews.'
Then, after passing this ordeal by fire, you sat down, turned the boat rapidly below bridge, so as not to be drawn into the
lasher below Cobbler's Needle,' the spit of land which divides the main river from the lock cut, and landed at the raftsperhaps with the aid of Sambo.'
I have thus particularised what used to take place in the 'seventies, because the boats no longer row up to Surley, and the fireworks are displayed below Windsor Bridge, opposite Fellows' Eyot. I do not wish to cavil at the change, for there were elements of old-fashioned greed in the public supper at Boveney which smacked too much of the early Georgian period, and the temptation to the lower boy to become intoxicated has been removed; moreover, there is greater space in the new site in which the spectators can view the fireworks.
Once we had landed at the Brocas, and the visitors from London had crossed the bridge, en route for the station, and were out of our way, we used to link arms and walk back, six or eight abreast, occupying the middle of the street, and singing choruses, and he who attempted to bar our progress was like to have a bad time of it, for was not Barnes Pool perilously near? For to us this linked march of jolly companions was the outward visible sign of the confraternity of wet bobs, and we displayed ourselves to the world at large once a year as a united band. Then, as the 'lock up' bells began to sound from the various houses, and the population of the street to melt away, we separated, each to his own house, to sleep that excellent sleep which nature gives to those who have done themselves well. There may have been elements of orgy still hanging about our festival which the pious and sad-eyed critic may deplore, but life would indeed be dull without a tincture of the carnival spirit, the love of good cheer and gay dress; and it will be a bad day for Eton if she ever ceases to celebrate the birthday of George the Fourth in the old accustomed way.
AT THE SALON AND THE ROYAL
It may be remembered that when my friends Sir John and Lady Bilderby made the tour of the Salon picture galleries last year, under the wing of M. de L'Atelier, they had not time (or shall we say space?) to examine the sculpture. I am sure they did so afterwards; but to say truth, it is rather too common with English visitors to an exhibition to devote nearly all their time to the pictures, and only spare a hurried glance at the sculpture before leaving. This is hardly fair to the sculptors (who, however, in England, are pretty well used to neglect and indifference); but it is also unfair to themselves, as starving their own æsthetic education, in neglecting a form of art which deals much more largely with abstract symbolism than modern painting usually does. For though the great end of all art is symbolism and not realism, painting is founded on realism to begin with; and so many spectators (and some painters) get no further than the half-way house, and are content with outward shows of life, their appreciation of which may be reduced to the shorthand form, 'it is like,' or 'it is not like':
That's the very man!
Look at the boy who stoops to pat the dog:
and so on. It is an innocent recreation, which makes no great strain on the intellect (though, be it remembered, the producing of it means considerable ability and severe training on the part of the painter); and so painting is naturally the more popular art. For sculpture, in spite of the fact that it deals with actual form in the round instead of the projection of form on a plane surface, cannot pretend to the realistic representation of life which appeals to everyday experience. It is a severely limited art, dealing with severely designed form, executed in a monumental material; dealing more especially with the nude human figure, in which alone precision of line is of such importance and difficulty as to justify the monumental material; many things may be worth painting which it is not worth while to carve in marble. Sculpture may
'Conversations at the Salon and the Royal Academy,' by H. Heathcote Statham, Nineteenth Century and After, June 1911.
thrive on mere beauty of form-that is achievement enough to justify it; but its highest aim is the symbolising of an idea through human form-an aim which is not readily appreciated by the popular mind, on this side of the Channel at all events. In France it may be, for at the Salon there is more of symbolic sculpture than is to be found elsewhere, and that would hardly be the case did not such work find encouragement and sympathy.
Let us then, this time, begin our brief survey with the sculpture, which in fact is the strongest element at the Salon. The vast sculpture hall contains, as usual, nearly a thousand works in sculpture (960, to be precise) prepared for one year's exhibition -an extraordinary testimony to the artistic energy and vitality of the French nation. French sculpture is perhaps not all that it was ten or fifteen years ago, but in the present exhibition you cannot move many steps in any direction without coming on something worth attention. The large works which occupy the axis. of the hall are not the best this year. M. Bacqué has a colossal monument to Michelangelo representing him on horseback, in a broad-brimmed hat, on the top of a rock-like eminence, from the sides of which grow blocked-out ébauches of some of his own works --Day and Night, and others. This is rather like making Michelangelo supply his own monument. M. Laporte-Blairsy's monumental fountain to the memory of Clémence Isaure, ' créatrice des jeux floraux (XVe siècle),' to be erected in a public place in Toulouse, is a work showing a good deal of piquant and original fancy in the details, but wants architectural coherence as a whole. Another great monument for the same city-Aux Gloires de Toulouse, by M. Ducuing, is on a triangular plan, with a lofty stele rising in the centre, at the base of which are three colossal seated figures, representing Sculpture and Painting,' 'Architecture' (a portrait figure of Bachelier), and 'A Troubadour '; the stele crowned by a figure of the same Clémence Isaure to whom the fountain is dedicated. The architectural portion of the monument is very well designed; the defect of the thing, as a whole, is that the figures at the base seem too accidentally placed and not sufficiently connected with the architectural centre. Across the top end of the hall extends M. Bouchard's immense group of six great oxen yoked in pairs and drawing a very rustic-looking plough, which appeared here in plaster some years ago under the same title, Le Défrichement, and is now translated into bronze. This is a work of great power in its way, a kind of sculptural glorification of French agricultural labour; but where is such a thing to be placed? It seems too large to deal with; nothing is said of its destination.
The honours of the Salon are more with some of the smaller works this year; notably, perhaps, with M. Alfred Boucher for
two works of very different kind, each equally perfect in its way. One is a female figure, said to be a portrait, wearing a helmet and clad entirely in such close-fitting tights as to seem practically nude, buckling on a sword-belt, with the title S'il le faut. Nothing could exceed the mastery with which this fine figure is modelled, though the whole thing is somewhat of a puzzle. His other work is a beautiful seated and clothed figure, hands clasped round her knees, with the title La Rêverie; as an example of the poetry of sculpture this is no doubt the finest thing in the collection. The figure is clothed not in what is usually called 'drapery,' but in a rather short skirt, not too realistically treated. But it loses nothing of its poetic character by this; and it may be observed that in a general way a seated figure is, in a sculptural sense, better clothed than nude-at all events in the lower portion; it wants the clothing to give breadth of surface. M. Gustave Michel, one of the most able and thoughtful of French sculptors of the day, exhibits a model on a small scale of a monument to Beethoven, which ought to work out into something fine on a larger scale. It is a composition in a generally pyramidal form, the lower part occupied by symbolical figures, not representing individually any of Beethoven's compositions-the sculptor carefully avoided that as ‘discutable'-but symbolising the passions, the griefs, the struggles, which lay at the basis of his works; the work culminating in a group, above the composer's figure (which appears at halflength in the upper portion of the composition), representing the joy of life. I should like to hear that the sculptor had a commission to carry this out on a large scale; it is a monument with an idea in it, and there is a tumultuous character in its lines which suits its great subject.
M. Jean-Boucher (with a hyphen, please, to distinguish him from Alfred Boucher) has taken for his principal work a great historic subject, Réunion de la Bretagne à la France, which is symbolised by a collection of figures in a semicircular alcove under a semi-dome-figures in their coats, their hosen, their hats, and their other garments,' which are rather too realistic for the purposes of sculpture; he is just saved by the great laps and folds of sculptor's work' in the sumptuous mantle of 'La Bretagne.' This is probably a State commission; the artist, who has produced some of the most poetic works in sculpture of the present day (notably Antique et Moderne), would hardly have chosen it of his own accord. The State is somewhat anxious to make use of sculpture to impress its own ideas upon the public. Family life is to be encouraged, so the State purchases M. Bigonet's group Premier Pas, a peasant mother encouraging her infant to walk: Millet in the round, one may say. With a similar aim it purchases M. Hugues's group, Le Poème de la Terre: l'enfant, le soldat, le