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French Art Part 6

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Certainly M. Dalou is far more nearly in the current of contemporary art than his friend Rodin, who stands with his master Barye rather defiantly apart from the regular evolution of French sculpture, whereas one can easily trace the derivation of M. Dalou and his relations to the present and the immediate past of his art in his country. His work certainly has its Fragonard, its Clodion, its Carpeaux side. Like every temperament that is strongly attracted by the decorative as well as the significant and the expressive, pure style in and for itself has its fascinations, its temptations for him. Of course it does not succeed in getting the complete possession of him that it has of the Inst.i.tute. And there is, as I have suggested, an important difference, disclosed in the fact that M. Dalou uses his faculty for style in a personal rather than in the conventional way. His decoration is distinctly Dalou, and not arrangements after cla.s.sic formulae. It is full of zest, of ardor, of audacity. So that if his work has what one may call its national side, it is because the author's temperament is thoroughly national at bottom, and not because this temperament is feeble or has been academically repressed. But the manifest fitness with which it takes its place in the category of French sculpture shows the moral difference between it and the work of M. Rodin. Morally speaking, it is mainly--not altogether, but mainly--rhetorical, whereas M. Rodin's is distinctly poetic. It is delightful rhetoric and it has many poetic strains--such as the charm of penetrating distinction I have mentioned. But with the pa.s.sions in their simplest and last a.n.a.lysis he hardly occupies himself at all. Such a work as "La Republique," the magnificent bas-relief of the Hotel de Ville in Paris, is a triumph of allegorical rhetoric, very n.o.ble, not a little moving, prodigious in its wealth of imaginative material, composed from the centre and not arranged with artificial felicity, full of suggestiveness, full of power, abounding in definite sculptural qualities, both moral and technical; it again is Rubens-like in its exuberance, but of firmer texture, more closely condensed. But anything approaching the _kind_ of impressiveness of the Dante portal it certainly does not essay. It is in quite a different sphere. Its exaltation is, if not deliberate, admirably self-possessed. To find it theatrical would be simply a mark of our absurd Anglo-Saxon preference for reserve and repression in circ.u.mstances naturally suggesting expansion and elation--a preference surely born of timorousness and essentially very subtly theatrical itself. It is simply not deeply, intensely poetic, but, rather, a splendid piece of rhetoric, as I say.

So, too, is the famous Mirabeau relief, which is perhaps M. Dalou's masterpiece, and which represents his national side as completely as the group for the Place des Nations does those of his qualities I have endeavored to indicate by calling them Venetian. Observe the rare fidelity which has contributed its weight of sincerity to this admirable relief. Every prominent head of the many members of the a.s.sembly, who nevertheless rally behind Mirabeau with a fine pell-mell freedom of artistic effect, is a portrait. The effect is like that of similar works designed and executed with the large leisure of an age very different from the compet.i.tion and struggling hurry of our own. In every respect this work is as French as it is individual. It is penetrated with a sense of the dignity of French history. It is as far as possible removed from the cheap _genre_ effect such a scheme in less skilful hands might easily have had. Mirabeau's gesture, in fact his entire presence, is superb, but the marquis is as fine in his way as the tribune in his. The beholder a.s.sists at the climax of a great crisis, unfolded to him in the impartial spirit of true art, quite without partisanship, and though manifestly stimulated by sympathy with the n.o.bler cause, even more acutely conscious of the grandeur of the struggle and the distinction of those on all sides engaged in it, and acquiring from these a kind of elation, of exaltation such as the Frenchman experiences only when he may give expression to his artistic and his patriotic instincts at the same moment.

The distinctly national qualities of this masterpiece, and their harmonious a.s.sociation with the individual characteristics of M. Dalou, his love of nature, his native distinction, his charm, and his power, in themselves bear eminent witness to the vitality of modern French sculpture, in spite of all the influences which tend to petrify it with system and convention. M. Rodin stands so wholly apart that it would be unsafe perhaps to argue confidently from his impressive works the potentiality of periodical renewal in an art over which the Inst.i.tute presides with still so little challenge of its t.i.tle. But it is different with M. Dalou. Extraordinary as his talent is, its unquestioned and universal recognition is probably in great measure due to the preparedness of the environment to appreciate extraordinary work of the kind, to the high degree which French popular aesthetic education, in a word, has reached. And one's last word about contemporary French sculpture--even in closing a consideration of the works of such protestants as Rodin and Dalou--must be a recognition of the immense service of the Inst.i.tute in education of this kind. Let some country without an inst.i.tute, around which what aesthetic feeling the age permits may crystallize, however sharply, give us a Rodin and a Dalou!

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French Art Part 6 summary

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