Romanticism and Materialism (part IV)

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This hatred against the bourgeois is a phenomenon of romanticism, excessive, like all romanticist phenomena, but very healthy. Berlioz proclaims it with fury in his memoirs. One finds the trace of it in Delacroix's journal, though he is of too high a caste for public negation or invective. The exodus of the landscapists to Fontainebleau is an active manifestation of it. Gautier and Baudelaire wear its insignia on their clothing. A little later, Flaubert will seek in it the pretext, and Zola one of the oftenest repeated subjects of their arts. Almost the whole aesthetics of Ruskin starts with a protest of sentiment against the social order imposed by the middle class. Ibsen contrasts the muddy valleys where it reigns through the submission of the crowd, with the solitude of the peaks in their ice and their sunlight. Such unanimity as this has its necessary reasons. He who loves protests against him who profits, he who has enthusiasm rises against him who knows only interest. Balzac alone sees the beauty of conquest, but, alas! in activities of the lowest order. Not content to sing of business, he engages in business. The "get rich" of Guizot, and the narrow, domineering ferocity of Thiers are not merely objective phenomena to be described with passionate interest, but objects of admiration before which his strength abases itself. Not one of all those—neither the one who admires, nor one of all who protest—not one is capable of feeling that which there is of vigor and of grandeur in this taking possession of the wealth of the planet by a class which had reached political freedom, at the time when they were seizing upon freedom of sensation.

It is men a little older than they, born in the prosperous families of the bourgeoisie approaching its triumph, and reared, consequently, for the practical man's conquest of freedom of action, not men carried along by victory as they were, who represent, in the domain of the mind, the beauty of that conquest. They are southern men, moreover, as far from the idealism of sentiment, wherein the art of the north finds all its pretexts, as the realistic soldiers of the south, loving war for its terrible intoxication and its immediate advantages, were distant from the idealistic warriors of the north, accepting war only in order to deliver, through it, the oppressed peoples of Europe. Among them, certainly, are the connecting links, Bonaparte, Berlioz, and Daumier, among whom the melody of southern line, and its lightning flash enter the material of the north to model it profoundly, like a colored clay. But Berlioz, at Rome, turns with disgust from Stendhal, whose only offense was that he had been born twenty years earlier, at an hour when there was less enthusiasm, and in the same part of the country. And when Ingres, arriving from Rome, enters the thick of the romanticist battle, everyone who is mildly or strongly tinged with romanticism instinctively opposes him; and all the mediocrities shocked by romanticism, which stood alone at that time in its fight for the life and the freedom of passion, group themselves around him who, through weakness and vanity, permits his hands to be tied. The romanticist and the bourgeois hated or praised in Stendhal and Ingres only the dryness of their line, their apparent coldness before the object, and their narrow and direct application to rendering it as it is. The tottering academic spirit seeks in the purity of Ingres's line the justification for the Davidian doctrines upon which it is propping up its exhausted classicism as well as it could. And despite the effacement of Stendhal, and the crying paradox of the career of Ingres—who hates the School and the juries and who is made head of the School and president of the juries, who proclaims his disgust with anatomy and whose anatomical drawing is opposed to the disconnected form of Delacroix—the same error is made with regard to both, and made by all, friends and enemies alike: no one perceives, at this moment, the flame under the ice, and the ferment of revolt and the implacable pessimism under the colorless form and the traditional calm. Ingres is a bourgeois of his time, throwing himself into the conquest of form, like the notary or the banker into the conquest of money. But he is a great bourgeois. He has the precise intelligence, rigorous and limited, the brutal idea of authority, and the specialized probity of those strong conquerors who, with an eye to lucre and to practical domination, dug canals, laid out roads, covered Europe with railways, launched fleets, and exchanged paper for gold over their counters. And so he could make, of these men, portraits which seemed to be cast in bronze and hollowed out with steel. It is because he closely corresponds with those who are of his epoch and of his class, that he is the last in France to trace with a pencil as sharp and hard as steel, those clear-cut psychological images which leave nothing of the inner character in the shadow, and which suppress every detail which does not emphasize this character of the man and of the woman who belong so intimately to this country. The continuity of these images is scarcely interrupted from Foucquet and the Clouets to himself, passing through Lagneau, Sébastien Bourdon, Coyzevox, Le Brun, Perronneau, La Tour, Drouais, Houdon, and twenty others; and, from Montaigne to Stendhal, all the French moralists. La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère, Saint-Simon, Voltaire, and Chamfort, bring to them the support of their clear-sighted testimony. The Frenchman is a born psychologist; he is lyrical by fits and starts when, in the thirteenth or the nineteenth century, some great social event—the Commune or the Revolution—occurs, to agitate, with a sound of storm, the sources of his sentiment. Stendhal and Ingres, at the hour when the poem was being reborn in the heart of the writers, of the musicians, and of the painters, had inevitably to remain unknown or misunderstood, the one finding no publishers, the other selling for twenty francs those penetrating drawings, as grand as a Chinese portrait, as pure as a melody, and as close to the mind and to life as a letter or a story of the century toward whose apogee he was born.

He is a realist by force of will who, in a country of very subtle and delicately shaded realism, contributes nothing new save a form renewed and made firm once more by a contact, passionately sought, with the antique and with the Italians. Before Delacroix was born, he is already in the atelier of David, studying Roman statues and bas-reliefs at the command of the despot, keeping secret his enthusiasm for the drawings of the English sculptor Flaxman, which revealed to him the engravings after Greek vases in the language of his time, and unable to do other than admire his master's portraits, solid, authoritative, full of love, even though it is so controlled, in which the respect for the inner structure is affirmed in order to lend its support to the whole rising century. It is in Italy that Ingres will pass almost all of the first half of that century, where his ardent study of Hellenic antiquity, of the Italian Gothic, and of Raphael will very soon make him conscious of the continuing thrill of life in fresco and in marble, which appears to him like the face of a woman under a half-raised veil; and it is Italy that will deliver him almost entirely from the paraphernalia of archaeology and from the narrow dogmatism against which romanticism itself is struggling. Two victories, of which neither Delacroix nor himself will admit the solidarity, and which will precipitate their reconciled influences into the forms of the future.

He came near to seizing the soul of antiquity at its sources, and while Delacroix is bringing to men freedom of sentiment in movement and color, he is preparing for them, with freedom of form, the revelation of true Greek thought which set itself to embrace the living block in its ensemble and to express it, without preoccupation with picturesque detail, through the roundness and the plenitude of the contour. It does not matter that his color, from which the reflection is voluntarily exiled, is oftenest only an attribute applied to the form, although, in most of his portraits, discreet harmonies of deep blacks, the blued and slatey grays of the backgrounds with their slight undulation, and the fineness of his whites touched with pearl, with blue, and with gold, assure him a place between Chardin and Corot. The music is in his line, in which Gluck and Mozart and Beethoven, for whom he has an uncompromising love, would recognize their melody, which is not yet drawn toward the romantic maelstrom, to be swept along by Berlioz, and submerged by Wagner in the orchestral storm of the symphony.
The music is in his line. According to the formula of the School, according to David even, he "draws badly." In his work, men constantly find that the feet are weak, the hands are badly placed, that the necks have goiter, joints are disconnected, and arms and legs a third too long or too short. But it is always to the advantage of the expressive power of the line, which insinuates itself, launches forth, or bends back, in order to give the total feeling awakened in him by his model. He gives a tapering quality to fingers, rounds the limbs, hollows the small of the back, thickens the lips, lengthens the eyes, or accentuates their angle. Drawing, portrait, large picture or small—everything is linear melody, naïvely following the form in its continuous undulation, but, when it receives the shock of the idea suggested by the form, swelling, or prolonging, or caressing, or restraining that undulation in order to impose its meaning. One might here surprise the trace of the romanticist deformation, were it not that he first considered the ensemble, not from the point of view of a dramatic impression to be rendered, but from the point of view of a general idea, objective and pagan, to which his Latin soul and his culture, formed on the antique, have led him. A woman's arm on the back of a chair, a beautiful drooping hand, crossed knees, or a sinuous torso, melting away or coming forward, are never isolated as they attract his eyes; they are only summits of a firm and progressive wave, all of whose contours respond to the sensation which he seeks voluntarily, and finds in the heart of every object.

He is haunted by the desire for the feminine body, round, full, and swelling with strength, like a world. It is in him that we find the affirmation of that hymn to woman of which the painters of the eighteenth century had given the outline with more verve than love, but which will assume, in the nineteenth, through Delacroix, through Chassériau, through Corot, Courbet, Carpeaux, Puvis, Renoir, and Rodin, a character of ardor, sometimes adorable and sometimes tragic. One hears it rumbling everywhere in his work, in which, because he has more will power than lyric power, it is clothed with a definitely erotic, and almost animal, meaning. If he were more spontaneously a painter, one would think of Goya. Here, above all, his bourgeois soul breaks forth, with its appetite unrestrained and without inner struggle; neither laces covering the skin, nor trinkets and chains around the necks, nor ample dresses around the waists and the legs, nor subjects drawn from religion or mythology, succeed in concealing this. His Blessed Virgins were first painted nude, and when they have their hands crossed over their heart, one still sees the bending curve of the breast, and the line that grows round on the maturing abdomen. Certainly, before his finished drawings and his allegorical pictures, one might think, and people have thought, that what is called ideal form is the only one that interests him. But his real nature is shown by his thousands of sketches, and it is in these that he is great. In them one sees furrowed torsos and drooping breasts, one sees broad flanks with folds as deep as the bark of a tree, and heavy and burning as fruit. And when he casts his eyes on some illustrious sitter, however austere the costume is intended to be, the person is already disrobed. As man is defined for him by wealth, woman is defined by love. He weighs the bellies of the bourgeois and the bosoms of their wives. How many beautiful heavy arms, emerging from their shawls, with fat hands, and the fingers spreading as if full of sap, which the rings press to the finger tips! How many dewy glances under heavy eyelids, how many moist mouths where voluptuousness trembles! How much warm flesh satisfied under the cold velvet, the stiff satin, and the inert scarf of gauze which does not succeed in masking the languid droop of the trunk, the fat waist, and the neck full of murmurs and of restrained sobs! Some of his large painted sketches draw to the surface of the skin the warmth exhaled by the breasts, and the echo of profound sighs.

Isolated, these portraits and these studies are among the finest things which France has produced. But if he tries to imagine, to compose, to seize the trumpet of heroism, and rise higher than his nature, he is seen as that which he would always have been, if his sensual genius were not there to save his soul: a spirit rather common, or perhaps even one of a slightly low order. As soon as he ventures upon the great symbols and the great myths, he is icy or ridiculous. As soon as he attempts to force them, even in their own direction, to create—with an assembly of women of the harem or with amorous divinities—the poem of voluptuousness realized by his slightest study, his feasts of flesh are without nobility. All he does is to pile up meat. All those fat sides, all those elastic breasts, all those well-rounded thighs, make up a heap of trembling things like swarming larvae. If one does not isolate a fragment of the picture, there is nothing to connect them with the spirit.

Here again, in this narrowness of a nature which is very audacious, certainly, very powerful and honest, but limited, he is bourgeois. He represents eighteenth-century rationalism which has come into power and is determined to hold it, even if it must do so by brute strength, and by regarding the lyricism of the romanticists as a kind of canker, caused by demagogues and revolutionaries, which must be extirpated at any price, even by making use of institutions and of formulas which he makes no secret of despising. He represents artistic positivism, practically a contemporary of philosophic and scientific positivism, and as restricted in scope and as necessary as they are. It will soon bear its fruits, and will even assume toward the reason of the bourgeois as well as toward the imagination of the romanticist, a rôle of socialistic, anarchistic, anti-Christian opposition by the rabble, in its blind slavery to the religion of "facts."

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