Thoughts on Art and Autobiographical Memoirs of Giovanni Dupre Part 34

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I narrated, all in its proper place, how it happened that I was not enabled to make King Victor Emmanuel's portrait; and it is necessary for me now to explain how I did not obtain the concession to make a bust of Pius IX. Marchese Pompeo Bourbon del Monte, the President of the Working Men's Catholic a.s.sociation in Florence, had the intention of giving me an order to make a bust of the Pope, to place in a niche in our Duomo, with an inscription commemorative of the great pontiff's pa.s.sage through Florence, and his consecration of four bishops there. Naturally the Pope was first asked whether he was willing that his bust should be made and should be placed in our Duomo. With both of these propositions the Pope showed his great satisfaction, and he was therefore asked the favour of giving some sittings to the sculptor; but on hearing my name, he refused to do so, because, having made Cavour's monument, he did not wish me to take his portrait. To speak the truth, this species of censure on the part of the Pope was most unpleasant to me. As long as some of the prejudiced journalists of the extreme party, in blaming me for having executed this work, a.s.sailed me on the ground that some of the nude allegorical figures (just imagine, children of seven!) were obscene, I let it pa.s.s; but the condemnation of the Holy Father was a great vexation to me. As Monsignore Archbishop Cecconi had been the intermediary, I wrote him a letter expressing my regret, and went over the story of the monument, and how I had accepted it, and what expression I had given to it, saying that I had not thought I was doing any harm, and that I was extremely pained to have met with the Holy Father's displeasure, and begging Monsignore to make known these sentiments of mine to the Pope. In fact the Pope heard of my letter, or at least a part of it, and answered that he had never doubted my sentiments or my good intentions, but for all that he was not willing to have his portrait taken by me; and that, to prevent the matter from appearing _ad hominem_, he would not give permission for it to be made by any one else.


A few months after this, wishing to go to Naples to see the Italian Exhibition, I stopped on my way in Rome, and saw the Pope, but not in a private audience. Nevertheless, he spoke benevolently to me, and said, "Dear Dupre, what fine works are you doing now?" I who, I must admit, never find myself embarra.s.sed by any one, stood there perfectly nonplussed, and was not able to utter a word; and that poor saintly old man, to put an end to my embarra.s.sment, continued, "I pity you; the political vicissitudes and the noises of war distract the mind of the artist, and are, in fact, opposed to the development of his genius."

Then turning to my daughter, he said, "And you, too: well done, my sculptress; I bless you together with your father."

It really gave me pleasure to see him again, and listen for the last time to that vibrating, and, at the same time, benevolent voice.

Something within me told me that he would soon be missing to us; and in fact, barely eight months after, he died, and but a few days after the king, to whom, during his last moments, he had sent his benediction; and report has it that he even said he would have gone himself to comfort the king, whom he personally loved, during his last hours, had he not been really so ill himself. These words of his gained for him the goodwill of those who were not his friends.


Now I must speak of the Exhibition at Naples, and most particularly of the naturalistic element that manifested itself there in sculpture. It deserves being studied with attention, so as to enable young artists of good purpose, and for whom I have most particularly written these memoirs, to acquire something that may be useful to them. Naturally the vast question of realism and idealism rises again to the surface. Those who know me, know that I am neither a realist nor an idealist, be it understood, as is generally intended and practised.

Idealism, in my opinion, is nothing else but a species of vision that the artist creates by strong love in his mind when he thinks of a given subject. Idealism is therefore the idea of the subject, and not in the least the idea of the parts of the form. It is true that even these are a.s.sociated pleasantly together in the mind, but it is wrong and false to believe that we can grasp hold of them only by the help of memory, and without having nature before us. The idealist, as I should understand him, seeks in nature for the models appropriate to his idea and his subject. He does not content himself with one alone, because he does not find in one, or even in two, the multiplicity of parts by which his idea is composed. From one he takes the several ma.s.ses and movement, and will take great care in these never to change from his model; from another he will take the head, or the hands, or other parts of the body in which the model for the general ma.s.ses may have been defective, and will be careful that in age and character they be not dissimilar from the princ.i.p.al model--that is to say, the model that he has used for the general form. If he departs here or there from this simple method, the idealist will fall into academical conventionalism, or into the vulgar and defective. Corrections of the model's defects made from memory bring us to conventionalism, and the exact imitation of the model alone drags us down to the vulgar and defective, because it is humanly impossible that one model can have in himself, besides the whole, all the perfections of parts that const.i.tute beauty, which is the aim of art.

Such, and nothing else, is the idealist; and so am I, and such has always been my teaching.

[Sidenote: REALISM.]

Now let us see the realistic. The naturalistic, to my way of seeing, is simply intolerant of long study of the many rules and dogmas of the academicians that teach one to make statues in very nearly always the same way, with the same measures and with the same character--be it a Virgin or a Venus, a Messalina or an Ophelia, and so on. He is in love with his own subject, and wishes to give it expression in its true character and with its own individual expression, and even with those particularities and imperfections that distinguish it from others.

Bartolini did so in his "Ammostatore," in his "Putti" for Demidoff's table, and in almost all his works; and so did Vela with his "Napoleon I." and his "Desolazione"; and lastly, although in a much more minute manner, did Magni with his "Reading Girl"; and up to this point I am naturalistic, and stand up for it. But in these days there is another species of naturalistics--better call them realistics--who love truth and nature to the extent of accepting even the ugly and bad in form and the useless and revolting in idea. And truly here I am neither with them, nor can I advise any one to hold in esteem this school, that I should rather be inclined to call the hospital or sewer of art. But what I have said so far is enough, for elsewhere I have touched upon the same subject, and do not want to repeat myself, but only to mention the question again, because at the great show in Naples the naturalistic school appeared in sculpture in all its audaciousness, and, I must frankly say, in all its power, worthier of a better cause and better intentions; and this, it is presumably to be hoped, may be at last more easily recognised by the young men who look for the truth, even wallowing in ugliness, than from those who fill their heads with the idea of looking for the beautiful in their memory and conventionalism.

From this it is evident that I have a predilection for the naturalist who caresses an idea and the idealist who is a faithful and not a timid friend of truth. The artist is not a servile copyist of nature--of ugly nature; not the imitator of statues, even though they are beautiful; not the slave of the name and teaching of the masters, ancient and modern.


I like the artist to be free in his imaginations, free in his feeling, free in his way of expressing himself and in his method, but yet strongly and tenaciously bound to nature and the beautiful. By this means we could have more good artists and fewer mediocre ones; but as long as there is official teaching it is useless to hope for it.

Government schools, in spite of the difficulty of admission and advancement from one cla.s.s to another, will always have too many scholars, amongst whom some--the very few, those who are really destined by nature for art--will have lost too much time in long academic courses; the others, the many, will have lost it entirely, because it is difficult with official teaching for any graduate to be expelled from school on account of tardy development or want of talent.


I do not say, indeed, that young men ought not to study, or ought to study only a little. Quite the contrary. They ought to study very much--study always; but with freedom--perfect freedom in their way of seeing and feeling and expressing the multiformity of nature; and as this freedom does not and cannot exist in official teaching, young men ought to select a master after their own taste. Certainly masters who do not belong to these academies will accept but few scholars, and will retain still fewer--that is to say, the best, those who give promise of succeeding--and the rest they will send away. And here is the great gain, because the minor arts--subsidiary, so to speak, to the fine arts, will take possession of these young men, who, instead of becoming mediocre artists, will become good workmen. Official teaching in the fine arts ought to be confined to architecture; in fact, there it ought to be amplified by the study of mathematics, engineering, and its mechanical application. The purse and the safety of citizens must surely be protected.

This little digression on teaching, which I have elsewhere treated more at length, has sprung up and been jotted down here after having seen the exhibition of the works of art of the Neapolitan school. I say the school, and not the academy--I should better say the grades of the naturalistic school of Neapolitan sculpture. It is undeniable that various works in sculpture, exposed to the solemn trial of the Neapolitan Exhibition, show that the young sculptors have emanc.i.p.ated themselves outright from the trammels of academical teaching, and have entered with full sails into the interminable sea of nature. This sea is beautiful, full of agitation and life, and in its greatness rouses the desire of research into the unknown; and to him who navigates therein with strength and purpose, promises unknown lands, rich in supreme beauty. But it is easy enough, by steering one's boat badly, or missing one's direction, to get stranded or dashed to pieces against the rocks.


Signor d'Orsi exposed a group in plaster representing the Parasites.

Nothing could have been better imagined than those two (I don't know how to call them) creatures. Brutified by food and wine, they sleep or drowse on a _triclinium_, leaning against each other. They are a literal imitation; and in this is all the merit of the work. It is not minute imitation, that battle-horse of small minds, but really the true expression of the conception and intention of the artist; but the idea is hideous, enormously hideous, so that to many it appeared disgusting and revolting; and I felt on looking at the work two opposite feelings--one that drove me from it, and another that kept me fixed to the spot. The ugliness of the subject and its forms repelled me; the knowledge and art by which it was expressed attracted me, and forced me to admire the talent of Signor d'Orsi. "This man," said I to myself, "has not come out of the academy; he is looking for a pa.s.sage through the vast sea of nature, and a sh.o.r.e to land on. Will he find it?"


A group in plaster of "Cain and his Wife" is the subject exhibited by Signor Giov. Battista Amendola. Considered from the point of view of expression, it is of wonderful truthfulness. This man, guilty of fratricide, cursed by G.o.d, stands there transfixed to earth; the anguish that oppresses him overcomes his arrogance; and not even the sweet words and caresses of his companion are able to appease that sullen brow and ferocious look. But Signor Amendola, who has so well entered into the human sentiment of pa.s.sion, pain, and rage that agitates the heart and upsets the mind, has made a mistake in the physical character that he has, with intention, given his figure. For since Cain and his wife are of a savage ugliness, more resembling the family of the orangoutang than the human being, he seems to be a follower of Darwin's theories, which, if they are desolating as regards science and human dignity, are absolutely revolting when represented in art. The truth is, that I think the primitive type of our race, although fierce and uncultivated, was much more beautiful than it appears to-day in our young men and young girls, who are with difficulty built up by preparation of iron and sea-baths. Then beauty was undoubtedly coupled with vigour and strength; but bad habits, mistaken education, effeminacy, and vice, have so diminished its vigour and physical beauty, that if one desired nowadays to make a "Cain," an "Abel," or an "Adam," it would be difficult to find amongst our young men a model who even distantly resembled them in their splendid strong beauty. It is also strange and absurd to look for them amongst the savages of New Zealand. I admire Signor Amendola's strength of conception and expression, but I blame his application of it in the selection of his types. He also is an artist that does not seem to be an academical student; and if to originality of subject and truth of expression, of which he has given proof in his group of "Cain and his Wife," he adds study and love in the research of the beautiful in nature, he will get on and be an artist, and what counts more, an original artist, but otherwise he will not. To make Cain, and even his wife, one must not, therefore, look for a model amongst the anthropophagi or amongst the young men who live between Doney's and the Piazza del Duomo. First of all, the type of such a subject, like any other, must be clearly in the mind of the artist, and then, with a great deal of study and love, he must seek for it in nature, abandoning in part or entirely those places where such types have no existence.

[Sidenote: TYPE OF CAIN.]

When I made my "Cain," I had the good fortune to find the model without the slightest difficulty; and the model I used was a strong and beautiful man, and what was more, he had feeling for action and expression, so that I copied him to the best of my ability, without even giving a thought to the cla.s.sical style so much recommended by Academicians, although not copying with servility all the little accidents of veins, wrinkles, and so forth (nowadays some people even imitate the corns and glands). I answered the Signora Laura Bianchi of Siena in these same words, or something like them, when she asked me, at the instance of Thorwaldsen, who was in intimate relations with the family, and made the monument to her husband, Cavaliere Giulio, what style I had used in making that statue, which he had not yet seen. Later I became personally acquainted with this distinguished artist, at a ball in Casa Larderel at Leghorn, in 1845, and explained this by word of mouth, modifying my expression, because dignity of name and years must ever be respected by young men, and he being an Academician, might have been offended by the harshness of my words on the cla.s.sical style.

I will continue my examination of the naturalistic Neapolitan sculpture.

Signor Raffaele Belliazzi exhibited a group in plaster, representing the Approach of a Storm, and a sleeping Calabrian, each the size of life. In these works the artist shows a real sentiment for truth in the expression of the woman holding the little girl firmly by the hand, both of them with their heads bent down, eyes tightly shut to avoid the sand that the wind is blowing with great force into their faces--their quick step and close clinging garments blown about them, showing the violence of the wind and approach of the storm. It is, if you will, a common subject, not very attractive, and at best more suitable to be rendered in small proportions than in life-size; for nothing that has great movement and lightness of touch can well be reproduced in large size in statuary. Now there is nothing more full of movement than clothes blown about by the wind; the eye can hardly see them, much less retain an impression of them, and therefore the artist is obliged rather to indicate them as they possibly might be, than definitively or accurately to reproduce them, as he should in a large work. I repeat, these momentary impressions are excusable, and may even succeed in being praiseworthy, if they limit themselves to expression in small figures with rapid touches, after the manner of a sketch; but in great dimensions they are not. The other work of Signor Belliazzi, "The Sleeping Calabrian," is a very beautiful study from life, most accurate and pleasing. Signor Belliazzi is of the naturalistic school; he loves nature, but he does not feel, or does not care to devote his thought to, what there is in nature of choice, attractive, and great, be it either in conception or in form. It is, however, also true that neither of his works can be put down as bad and ugly.


One who loves, feels, and reproduces nature with refinement and grace, seems to me to be Signor Constantino Barbella, as it is shown in his little _terra cotta_ group called "A Love Song." It consists of three young girls singing as they walk along, their arms interlacing each other. They are dressed in the rich and peculiar costume of the Abruzzi mountains; and this dress on these figures, so young and so beautiful, flexible and lifelike in their movement of walking, the joy expressed in their faces for the charm and virtue of song, make an admirable composition which one can look at with ever new pleasure. Here the small size of the figures, and the material in which they are made, is all forgotten, and it seems as if one could hear the song,--the very breath and joy of those young girls. This peaceful work seems to be one of the most beautiful of the Neapolitan naturalistic school, and in this measure I like the naturalistic.


The study of nature, so felt and understood, draws the artist nearer to the ideal conception--that is to say, to the reproduction of beautiful nature in all its most varied forms; it opens the mind to ideas and serious thoughts of loveliness and grace, for which Phidias, Giotto, Orgagna, and Michael Angelo were celebrated, and will remain so to the end of the world. The study of the material imitation of nature, especially when it is defective and ugly in conception and form, besides rendering these particular statues disagreeable, drives the artist away from the ideal conception of monumental works, to which sculpture should be specially devoted. The design for the monument to Salvator Rosa, the work of Signor d'Orsi and Signor Franceschi, go to prove the truth of my a.s.sertion.

These few words on Neapolitan sculpture are said to prove how much and how far the naturalistic school is to be accepted; and I have selected these examples because in them are demonstrated the power, audacity, and error, as well as the beginning of a healthy and fruitful innovation, provided it be upheld and sustained by the sentiment of the beautiful.

[Sidenote: BELLINI.]

Delightful Naples, rich in vineyards and orange-trees, with her splendid sky and enchanting sea, in which the city mirrors itself, and ever rejoices and sings, recalls to my mind the beautiful school of Italian melody of Scarlatti, Pergolesi, and Bellini. Bellini, a name beloved and venerated by all who value beautiful melody--whose song is so pa.s.sionate and graceful, expressing in its suave sweetness pa.s.sion and love, rage and remorse, and creating dramatic situations from the very notes themselves, more than from the words; Bellini, a master without pedantry or artifice, clear without being common, profound without being abstruse, and really of the future (because I believe that both thought and ears will soon be tired of being obliged to listen too attentively to catch, here and there, _rari nantes_ in _gurgite vasto_ some half phrase obscure and _slegato_);--Bellini, I say, who is indeed a great man, is soon to have a monument erected to him. This monument was to have been made by me, and G.o.d only knows how willingly I would have worked to have made a statue of that graceful and strong genius! That work, however, has fallen into excellent hands; for Giulio Monteverde, whom I love and esteem, is to be the fortunate artist.

But if I am glad that this important and most sympathetic work has fallen into good hands, I am none the less sorry not to have it to do myself, the more so that the way it was taken from me seems inexplicably strange. This is how it was. Some years back I had a commission from Marchese del Toscano, of Catania, to make the bust of the Maestro Pacini. At that time I was also asked by the same Marchese, who was then syndic of the town, if I would be willing to make a great monument to Bellini, that the city and province proposed to put up to their great fellow-townsman. Naturally I met such a request with pleasure, although it was accompanied by considerations of economy that, whilst they were not in the least to diminish the grandioseness of the monument, in view of the place where it was to be erected, and the dignity of the subject, led him to suppose (and in this the worthy gentleman was not mistaken) that the artist would have to be discreet in his demands, so as to facilitate the work of the organising committee. I answered as a disinterested artist who was desirous of doing the work should. "Tell me the sum at your disposal, indicate the size of the place where you wish to erect the monument, and I shall make you a sketch for it which, I hope, will give you satisfaction; for I shall not look in the least to my interest, as this great man is so dear to me, and I highly approve the idea you have had of doing him honour."


In the meanwhile things proceeded very slowly; the sums of money collected were not sufficient to make the monument of the proposed size, and to this effect they wrote me after some time had pa.s.sed; when at last, one fine day, a letter arrived from the secretary of the munic.i.p.ality, saying that the sum had been collected for the Bellini monument, that the munic.i.p.ality intended at once to have the work begun, and that, with this object in view, the syndic would soon forward the order of the commission to me. Naturally, I looked for the letter from the syndic, which did not keep me long waiting; but I leave it to the reader to judge of.

The Marchese del Toscano was at that time no longer syndic of Catania, and in his stead there was another, whose name I do not remember; for I have the good fortune to forget the names of those who treat me badly, and so bear them no resentment. I say this merely for the sake of truth, that no one may suppose me possessed of a virtue that I have not. I have read somewhere, but I do not remember where, that the person offended engraves in porphyry the name of the offender, and the nature of the offence; whilst on the other side it is but traced in the sand, that the slightest breath of wind cancels. This may be true; but as regards me, I must confess candidly that the very reverse occurs: and I thank G.o.d for it, and so live on most happily, and my blood gains in colour and vitality every day that I grow older.

[Sidenote: MONTEVERDE.]

Here is the sense, if not the very text, of the Signor Sindaco's letter: "It is some days since my secretary wrote to you, to ask if you would accept the order for Bellini's monument for this city. It must be finished in eighteen months. Answer at once, for I have no time to lose, and otherwise we shall appeal to Monteverde." One cannot deny that this epistolary style is of an enviable brevity and clearness. I answered that I had received the letter from the secretary, but as he had announced to me that the syndic himself would write, I had waited for this letter so as not to have to answer both, because I also had no time to lose. I said that I could not accept under such close conditions, and with such limited time; and as to appealing to Monteverde, he did well, as he was a most talented artist, but I doubted whether even he could accept for the same reason--want of time. Monteverde was given five years' time, and the price increased not a little from what was proposed to me. My best wishes to the artist are that he may be well inspired and make an excellent work; that the good Catanese may have reason to be satisfied with their way of proceeding; and that the monument to Vincenzo Bellini may in its lines recall the pa.s.sionate phrases of melody of the divine master.


Here my memoirs come to an end. Those who have followed me with open trusting minds, know me as if they had been with me from a child. They know my humble origin; they remember my early years when I wandered here and there with my father in search of work he found little of, and that with difficulty; my attempts to study, to satisfy an inward yearning that I knew not how to appease; the difficulties in my position of satisfying that craving; the efforts that I made to content it, and the dangers to which a quick nature abandoned to itself is exposed. They have learnt how I chose for my companion a young girl as judicious and good as she was gentle and beautiful, who was my providence and my angel, the educator of the family, and an example of temperateness, patience, and faith to me (who am so intolerant and easily angered), and whose loss I feel even more heavily to-day, when I think that by G.o.d's mercy I could now have made her life more peaceful and easy.

I wished to explain my principles on questions of art, on teaching, and on the relations that the young artist has with his colleagues, with his masters, and with his subjects. I wished to prove that justice and temperance, in judging and sentencing works of art, are the foundation of urbane and friendly artistic life.

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Thoughts on Art and Autobiographical Memoirs of Giovanni Dupre Part 34 summary

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