March 8, 1937
In the exhibition of new accessions to the Print Department of the Brooklyn Museum, on view until April 5th, there is fresh evidence that the policy of the Curator, Carl O. Schniewind, is resolutely strengthening tho collection in the field of European and especially French prints of the late 19th and early 20th century. This policy was first manifest in the summer exhibition last year and was a marked departure from the previous policy of acquiring chiefly the work of British and American print makers of the day. The Museum is also picking up occasionally a rare and fine example of older work, and supplementing its purchases in this field with judiciously selected loans. Such are the Durers now on view, the Canale, the Delacroix, the Gavarni, the Georg Friedrich Schmidt, and a page from a 15th century book by a Nuremburg Master. The bulk of the exhibition, however, comprises prints by André Derain (1880-), Raoul Dufy (1877-), Mario Laurencin (1885—), Arstide Maillol (1861-), Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (1864—1901), Pablo Picasso (1881—), Odilon Redon (1840-1916) Georges Rouault (1871—), and Andre Dunoyer de Segonzac (1864-1901 1877—) of whose work the Brooklyn Museum recently exhibited tho Frank Crowninshield Collection.
There are in general two attitudes toward all this work. It is regarded either as a healthful return from all that is distinctly slick, photographic and inartistic in 19th century realism to something more alive and truly of the nature of art; or it is regarded as a capricious, wilful, ugly, subversive, insincere attack upon all that is beautiful, artful, right and true. The difference of opinion is still violent. No compromise or middle ground is possible. One is not permitted to be liberal in such matters, or even ecclectic. One must be for or against. To the admirers of modern French prints there is nothing to be said except that it is high time those masterpieces were recognized by being included in a museum collection, scandalous that many of those prints, those of Raoul Dufy for instance, have never before been included in a public collection, another instance of the traditional progressive character of the Brooklyn Museum that it should be the first to make such a special collection. But to those in the hostile camp of the conservatives, something else has to be said.
Whether we like it or not, these are the artists of France who have attained the highest recognition during a period of a half century approximately. It is our primary duty to record in museums by museum collections the history of the arts. It is not our first function to pass ethical judgments upon the character of history. The work of Durer is remarkably different from the work of Rembrandt, but no collection would venture to decide that one or the other was wrong and to collect only one. We do not, as some nations today are wont to do, suppress those facts of history which are inconveniently not in accord with our own preferences. From that point of view alone, a museum, which is essentially a conservative institution, is bound to collect and preserve representative works of art, preferably before they become so rare and expensive that the task of collecting is difficult or impossible of performance.
From a more sympathetic point of view, of course, it is possible to point out that these prints have other qualities than those of historical record. The “Torso of a Woman” by André Derain is a large lithograph of a beautifully formed body, fairly academic in handling but dated by the vigor and rhythm of the outline. Raoul Duly’s lithograph of “Baigneuses” (his first lithograph, by the way) is a sketchy and rather playful drawing of three women partly draped, arranged in an informal group, and indicated by rapid and vigorous curved lines that contrast with the angular architectural back ground. The whole has the effect of a swift impression of an intimate scene recorded in clean nervous lines. Duly’s “Los Ondines” is again a playful study, but quite different in manner. The swimming women are assimilated to the forms of Baroque cupids, flat tones drawn across the paper either in straight broad strokes or in zig-zag strokes suggest the fluent veil of water disturbed by the movement of the swimmers. His “Maurosquo Etendue” has by no means the voluptuous and seductive emphasis of Matisse but with its detailing of fluffy patterned material, pudgy hands, and a racial type that is not in accordance with our standards of beauty, gives an impression of realism and character study. The drawing is designed as a web of fine clean lines. Duly’s “Negresse Demi Nue et Tete de Negresse" is also a study in racial type and character, but bore the full curves and langorous pose and mood do give a more seductive feeling. The drawing is executed with more than usual economy, executed with a minimum of flowing curved outlines and of stylized shading. There is a deceptive air of careless placing but the composition is really balanced with great subtlety both for surface pattern and for weight of forms. Dufy’s “Odalisque a Nice” is distinctly expressionist in feeling. The languid lazy form of the woman complacently spread out for the eye to admire is involved in a maze of jazzed details from the neighboring landscape. It is the false idyll of extreme sophistication, the repose of luxury arid not that of peace. Dufy’s "Regates" is again playful, a colored lithograph, in which water and boats are viewed with a child’s eye as so many pleasantly colored toys. The water is handled much like that in "Les Ondines" with broad strokes and jagged lines contrasted by the difference in color.
The Laurencin self-portrait is a loan. It is a delicate and fairly sincere drawing, somewhat stylized, but not pushed with the commercial drive of the Laurencin factory. It does have the familiar fluffy look and the mannered emphasis upon dark and peculiar eyes. The gradations of subtle emphasis in the modeling of the head are the chief techinical virtues of the drawing, which is otherwise a pretty but rather serious character study.
There are two examples of "Le Jockey" by Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, one in black and white and one in color. It is a sporting print, but a vigorous and breezy one. The drawing has been controlled to suggest movement most of all, but is shrewd and sympathetic in its study of the anatomy of horse and rider. The colored version is mildly prettified. The black and white version is by far the stronger.
Picasso’s “Amours de Jupiter et de Semele” and "Chute de Phaeton avec le Char de Soleil” are both illustrations for the Metamorphoses of Ovid. In each the lines of the drawing have been deliberately warped into a decorative form by the pressure of the squarish rectangular frame. The "Jupiter" is a thing of suave and tender curves with a breadth of form that suggests bodies larger than life. In the “Phaeton”, the nervous breaking and angularity of the drawing suggests the disorganization and speed of the falling chariot, horses and rider. Picasso’s “Tete de Fenimo” is an early and fairly academic etching, a delicate little head of a girl. It is dated 1905. Tho “Ovid” came twenty’ five years later.
Odilon Redon is represented by three emotional studies in masses of shadow. In the “Pegase Captif” the sweep of the downward curve, the downward direction of the entire composition, the mass of darkness and the pathetic breaking of the large line convey the mood of captivity. The “St. Jean” is a spiritualized portrait with delicate hands lifted in prayer and young bowed head, the whole veiled and etherialized by the style of drawing. The “Death on a White Horse” shoots up clouds, fire, a horseman and a terrifying armed rider from one corner of the picture with appropriate dramatic and emotional effect.
The lithographs of Georges Roualt are difficult to approach with any sympathy unless one is in a savage and tragic mood. They are built but of harsh shadows and staring lights. The former stained glass worker retains his fondness for heavy black outlines and compositions cut up into fanciful shapes, but lacking the light and color of glass he has forced his values to gain a sense of light. A general review of his work would illustrate the deepening of melancholy and of religious mysticism. “La Fille” is a cruel study of a rather ungainly nude woman. It is perhaps drawn with compassion and sympathy. One is not sure. It gives a feeling of a ruthless realism that would rather speak true than be kind. “L’ecuyere" says about the same thing of an old ballet dancer. She is an anatomical monster, ugly and misshapen, her costume but distorts her form. If drawn with any reference to Degas this print might be the bitterest sort of satire. It is certainly not dazzled into romance by the ballet. His "Self-Portraits," one with color and one in black and white, from the same stone, are more sympathetic, They are grotesque, but it is the grotesquerie of religious arid poetic aceticism. Here the light has some spiritual significance.
The Maillol illustrations for “Ovid” are almost too familiar to comment upon. They are chiefly neo-classic studies of women, nude figures, informally posed, realistically seen, handled in a fairly literal academic way, but given a kind of primitive superhuman beauty by a sort of serene peasant fondness for healthy bodies and soft curves that are pleasant to the hand as well as the eye. They are distinctly sculptural in feeling, and their classicism is no imitation but a coincidence due to similar tastes and experience.
Segonzac is of course at the opposite pole, a nervous city fellow, always self-conscious, feeling about in his web of spider lines and blots of inky emphasis for a smartness and style in beauty. He does simple things in a complicated way. But his line is as clean and rhythmic as it is psychologically involved, and he does love sunlight and natural things, simple things, even though he always sees them from a sophisticated point of view and struggles with manifest effort to make the sophisticated eye linger in his complex patterns. "La Treille Muscato" is a handsome book, and many of its pages are displayed in table cases where they can be easily studied.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1937 - 1939. 01-03_1937, 044-6. View Original