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novels popular, and, blessed by the Censor, fills our theatres with close-packed rows of matrons, curates, young people and old gentlemen, who murmur, while the little dressmakers' models on the stage languish, display and undress themselves, 'Beautiful
. scenery!' York Powell used to tell how he went to a music-hall with a certain Highland professor of history. There came upon the stage a planturous lady in tights, who sang about the hymns she had learned at her mother's knee. 'Hymns and tights !' moaned the Highlander; ‘Hymns and tights, Powell! What a nation !' Neither the Highlander nor the Frenchman condemns one or the other of those things in their own place, but he does not so often mix them; and what shocks both of them in the British (I reserve 'English' for a cleaner tradition), is just their complacent adoration of the mixture, which is what, in this country, is usually described as `pure.' The quality of this 'purity’ is brought out in the incomparably British legend (dear to academics) of Lady Godiva, who is said to have ridden naked through Coventry, but did not do so because everyone was shut up indoors. Neither side could trust its pride and modesty to such an ordeal. The hero and martyr of the occasion was Peeping Tom, who was obliged to look through a keyhole. The British and the French, like Blake's angels and devils, shock one another, and what the foreigner observes with wonder in Mrs. and Miss Grundy is an extraordinary gift for affecting to be singing a hymn, while—but I had better follow Mr. Harrison no further.
Mr. Harrison's main theme is Auguste (not, by the way, Augustin ') Rodin, and his art, and this introduces us to a tangle of ideas about sculpture, and its relation to the other arts, that we must try to clear up. First, however, a word about Rodin's place in history and influence. He is not, as Mr. Harrison seems to think, a very recent influence, and he is no longer a fashionable one. The school that is now occupying critics and youthful artists is a different one-a school of simplified and massive forms, more architectural than Rodin's, represented by the Frenchman Maillol, the Servian Meštrović and the semiEnglish Epstein. This by the way. Rodin is a veteran, born nine years later than Mr. Harrison himself, who, after untold struggles, first emerged into recognition with L'âge d'airain in the year 1877. This figure at least Mr. Harrison would admire; it is so close-modelled on life that it was rejected from the Salon as a cast from the model. The phase that Mr. Harrison detests began with Rodin's study of Dante, the book
In deference to any over-sensitive readers of this Review I weaken the plain word used, though Mr. Harrison has been, shall I say, alo xpolóyos with a relish in his descriptions of Rodin's sculpture.
that of all others Mr. Harrison admires.' The effort to express the passions of the Inferno in terms of another art took the shape of the Porte de l'Enfer, a project several times remodelled and never completed; and the Ugolino (a subject, by the way, handled by Reynolds also, properest of academics) is but one episode from that whole, as is also Danaide, and many other pieces, which have been detached and carried out separately. The source and subjects, then, are not themselves corrupt; but here, Mr. Harrison says, is the radical error of Rodin : the attempt to give plastic shape to what can only properly be treated in literature. I will deal with that general question in a moment, but first let me remark that if Rodin is wrong, his error is by no means a new one; there is an unbroken medieval tradition in sculpture and painting dealing with the torments of the damned that is continued at the Renaissance and reaches its climax in the Last Judgment of Michael Angelo. This tradition was brutal and somewhat farcical, one of grotesque devils pitchforking unhappy souls into the jaws of Hell, or playing various obscene tricks with them, an external and physical idea of damnation. What Dante did was to combine with the lingering horrors and foulness of that conception the idea that had been gathering substance from Homer to Virgil of a world in which unhappiness was not a punishment but a state, in which souls were themselves their own fever and pain’; and what Rodin did was further to free the conception from a shallow and grotesque externality, and present it in a series of typical episodes of creatures self-tormented by appetite and lust. There has therefore, from first to last, been a give-and-take in this theme between sculpture and literature, in which sculpture has had nearly as much to say for itself as literature.
Was this a mistake, as Mr. Harrison thinks? We must at once allow to him, though he gives entirely wrong reasons for the view, that in representing the terrible, the horrible and the pitiful, it does make a difference whether the art be that of words, of painting or of sculpture. One great difference is that of immediacy; words do not render the thing seen, but refer to it only, and can therefore pass at once from the material fact, half visualised, to its moral implications, with just as little or as much pressure on the image evoked as the artist chooses. The painter's image, or the sculptor's, on the other hand, does necessarily fix the eye and mind on the material fact, on the terrible or pitiful figure; and there is a difference also between the painter's and the sculptor's image in this respect : not the difference Mr. Harrison sets up, that one is an art of surfaces and the other not, for both are arts of surfaces, tangible as well as visible in the case of sculpture,
?• All of us to whom Dante is the new Bible.' 'To me Dante has ever been the source and foundation of my love of great imaginative thought.' English Review, January 1912.
visible only in the case of painting. The difference is that painting can use much more freely than sculpture means of attenuation. Painting, rendering only one point of view, differs in that respect from sculpture in the round, though not from sculpture in relief (which is half drawing, and which Rodin used in the Gate of Hell); but painting also has the resources of fixed shadow and of atmosphere, as well as the devices of an immensely freer composition to cover up, to veil, to work by suggestion rather than by complete presentation. It is, by the way, an extension of some of those devices, already employed in relief sculpture (compare the 'stiacciato' of Donatello's almost vaporous Christ's Charge to Peter at Kensington), to sculpture in the round that Mr. Harrison objects to; the emergence of half-veiled shapes from the marble, the leaving parts of a figure or group engaged in the block. Rodin is here meeting Mr. Harrison half way, but gets no thanks for it. I point this out, but do not insist, because I do not think those are Rodin's happiest works ; his best work is not in marble, but in bronze. I come back to the crux of the argument. It is admitted that literature, with a Dante, may treat of the horrible and pitiful; it is admitted that if sculpture so treats, the impression produced, being solid and material, is visually more intense. What, then, are the demands of the imagination on the sculptor, if he take up responsibilities admittedly so heavy? We may answer generally that the image created must justify, in its beauty and significance, the horror that it brings before not only our mind but our eyes, justify to the eyes in beauty, to the mind in significance. Let us take the second of these demands first, and ask what it implies in the sculptor's art. He is required, evidently, to find, in terms of modelling, what will convey to us not merely the brute fact, but his attitude towards the fact; his horrible or pitiful figure must become not merely visible to the eye, but expressive to the imagination, carry with it a sentiment of pity, awe, repugnance or revolt. The thing must cry out its meaning; such tame scientific enumeration of facts as is proper in a text-book of pathology will be disgusting in a work of art. The artist must minimise the insignificant facts, underline and emphasise the significant, so that just as the humane spectator of the fact, unless he be a doctor, will not set to work to catalogue to himself what he sees, but will exclaim ‘How terrible !' so will he on seeing the sculpture, and pass on with a mind ' purged by pity and terror.'
a But the odd thing is that just at this point of the argument Mr. Harrison becomes unbelievably wrong-headed, and denies to the art of tragic sculpture the means of justifying its existence. He goes further; he denies to sculpture any means of expression whatever. It is his incredible belief that sculpture begins and ends
with the exact reproduction, as by a cast, of the human form. If that be so, why do we have sculptors at all? We have, indeed, very few; most so-called sculptors are content with imperfect casts of the human form, just as most so-called painters are content with bungled photographs. But the art of the painter or sculptor only begins where the photograph or the cast leaves off, begins with the choice and emphasis of forms that make lucid, in the outer image, the inner spirit. But then, says Mr. Harrison, you turn sculpture into an art of caricature. Certainly : or more precisely caricature is an expressive image for the purposes of comedy or farce; but the tragic image is arrived at by the same processes of elimination, emphasis, and creative remaking that satire uses with another intention. Portraiture itself gains its object by this process; but what we call 'caricature ' in the comic image we call ' character' in the serious portrait; and Rodin, in his Balzac, his Hugo, his many splendid busts, is a master of portraiture, because he there works to bring out in his modelling the essential character that in the photograph or the cast is covered up and disguised by a hundred casual and trivial details. The two processes, that of getting the tame facts and that of modifying for expression, are, as it happens, very distinct in Rodin's practice. Mr. Harrison calls him a'n ' impressionist’ sculptor. I do not know what that means, unless the method of working for an effect from one point of view only—a method fatal if the point of view is altered. Rodin's method is the reverse : he arrives at his facts by studying the profiles of a form from endless points of view. When this process is complete, the bust or figure exists as Mr. Harrison would have it, save that it has those ‘ movements’ of life impossible to the relaxed muscles of the cast. On this he then works for 'expression,' amplifying here, reducing there, bringing out the latent character, till the form tells the story he has read in it. It was a long time before he would admit that there was any such modification : the process was so half-conscious that twelve years ago he held out that all he did was to amplify contours a little to allow for the irradiation of light. But in the book Mr. Harrison quotes from, Rodin, or his interpreter, concedes all that I then contended for, the exaggeration of traits and gestures for expressive purposes. I may add that to one who can read between the lines it is evident that M. Gsell, the amiable reporter, has 'amplified in places what Rodin himself is likely to have said. There is a sentimental filling out of the text that should be received with caution. Rodin arrives only gradually at the theory of what he has been doing, and catches often at an explanation offered, just as he waits for a title to be proposed for something he has created by a plastic inspiration.
• L'Art par Auguste Rodin. Entretiens réunis par Paul Gsell.
So much on the side of significance and expression. But those embodiments of horror might still be intolerable if they were not beautiful as well as expressive, since beauty is the medicine of art for wounds to sensibility. And here we come to more difficult ground. It is usual to bilk the discussion by the assertion that the ugly’.as well as the beautiful has its place in art. But that is to talk nonsense, and give the case of tragic art away; and I pro
I pose to pursue the argument further. This use of ugly' and
' beautiful' rests upon ambiguity and confusion; we employ the words in two senses. When we speak of a beautiful' woman we mean not necessarily that she is a beautiful' object to draw, for most of her poses will be useless to the artist; we mean partly that her rhythm and colour and movement are beautiful, but we mean also that she is to us as men admirable or desirable : admirable for the qualities of health, youth, perfection of structure,
for the harmony of nature and promise of womanly virtues of which we find an index in natural physical signs; on the other hand, we more frequently mean that she is seductive to the senses, and people who use ' beauty'chiefly to mean this are completely puzzled when they hear others call the face of an aged crone as painted by Rembrandt 'beautiful '—more beautiful than a pretty face by Greuze or Bouguereau. The seduction, the youth, the associations which they have included in the word 'beauty' have passed away from Rembrandt's subject, and even the moral associations of a fine character, to which the face is an index, may also be wanting : associations for which once more we use that hard-worked word when we should use 'noble.' But if we limit 'beauty' to the elements of rhythm in line, proportion in parts, harmony in colour, the crone's head as painted may be as beautiful as the lovely girl's, or more so. This is what 'beauty' means to the artist, and those other elements belong to the side, not of beauty, but of significance. On that side they have their enormous importance : the significance to us of loveliness is so great that artists will constantly sacrifice more beautiful subjects for its sake, but if we wish to be clear-headed we shall call it 'loveliness' and not 'beauty.' The truth is-and here I shall be accused, no doubt, of paradox, but I must follow where the argument leads—the truth is that the element of beauty in a lovely woman is small compared with the attraction she exercises by her perfection as a woman. A human being, considered rhythmically, is at the best a spoiled animal, distorted by standing on its hind legs. We condone the loss of beauty for the sake of the measure of divinity which the animal through this loss has attained; but in beauty, pure and simple, a toad is more complete than an Apollo or a Venus. This is the reason why an