16 June 2011

Sadakichi Hartmann On Photography & Art

Sometimes I think that everyone who had a camera photographed Sadakichi Hartmann.  The author of The Valiant Knights of Dauguerre was himself photogenic, and not only when sitting still.  A Chinese prince in The Thief of Baghdad (1924), Hartmann played opposite the great scene stealer Douglas Fairbanks. The man who wrote plays and acted the theater impresario was also known for his dancing, an eccentric blend of the modern and the oriental.  For one to whom the camera could be so kind, his opinions on photography had pith.

 “What artistic photography needs most is a Steinlen, who has succeeded in expressing in his weekly illustrations for the Gil Blas supplement – as valuable as any Japanese wood cuts – the heat, the hurry, the vexations, the lurid excitements and frivolous graces, the tragedies and comedies of Parisian life, and in a more perfect manner than Zola has in his long-drawn series of novels.”  - from A Plea for the Picturesqueness of New York (1900).  

 “I have always endorsed Heine’s defense of plagiarism, that it is permissible to steal entire columns and porticos from a temple, providing the new edifice one erects with their aid is great enough to warrant such violent proceedings.  The history of art had proven this somewhat surprising statement to be true.”  -  from On Plagiarism And Imitation (1900).  Here, Hartmann also praised Stieglitz’s The Net Mender, a photograph that was made with a painting by Max Liebermann.in mind. :

On the 1910 Photo-Secession exhibition at the Albright-Knox Gallery  in Buffalo that introduced the movement to a national audience:  “An ensemble so exceptional, aside of all actualities, teaches a lesson of deeper significance.”   “Like the delicious odor in some mirrored cabinet that lingers indefinitely for years, this spirit will not fade. It will be remembered long after individual efforts have lost their immediate usefulness.  The few masterpieces will remain, the rest will be forgotten, but the spirit will continue to remain an active force, and produce fresh impressions of light and tone, of form and grace.”  - from What Remains (1911)

Hartmann delivered his aesthetic judgments with a sarcasm that may explain his affinity for the subject of his finest volume, The Whistler Book (1910).  “Hartmann may be capricious and malicious, and rather careless at times, but he is, after all, the only critic we have who knows a good picture when he sees it and is not afraid of expressing his opinion,”  the painter E.E. Simmons admitted.

 “With Whistler this conception of beauty was largely a sense for color, the realization of some dream in black and silvery grey, in pale gold or greenish blues.  Color was to him the island in the desert which he had to seek, unable to rest until he had found it.  He saw life in color visions and his subjects were merely means to express them.” – from White Chrysanthemums, Camera Work, No. 5, January 1904

On the elongated figures of totemic women in Thomas Wilmer Dewing’s painting:s “Their ideal is to be found probably between the Antique and the Early Renaissance….They lead, indeed, but a life of reflection, they seem to be melancholy without reasons, merely because pain is poetical.  When Dewing paints them, he takes good care to avoid expressing even a reflection of the genuinely devout feeling of the Middle Ages as Rossetti or Henri Martin do….” – November 1893

On Augustus Saint-Gaudens: “His principal merit is that he has succeeded, in his statues and bas-relief – probably nobody has excelled him in that – in rendering our modern costume picturesque in a realistic as well as highly artistic manner, for this, if for nothing else, he will live in the history of art.” – October 1898

On Albert Pinkham Ryder’s  Toilers of the Sea– “And Vanderdecken’s world weary phantom ship, as Ryder conceives it, drifting on tempestuous sea of time, with its colossal troughs bedizened with the lurid glamour of a goblin sun – and struggling in the left distance on a mighty wave, upwards!  In an atmosphere laden with Good Friday gloom and glory: this upward movement is genius, pure and mighty, that will live for centuries to come (if no varnish slides occur).” – March 1897.

On Arthur Bowen Davies: “His drawing and lawless composition reminds one of Degas…” – January 1894.  Hartmann, also a practicing pastellist, recognized the strength of composition in pictures by Davies, Degas, and Ryder where others saw carelessness, a failing he understood only too well from his own need to turn his talents into cash.

On Puvis de Chavannes: “ ..if one is bent on classifying Chavannes, one might term him a colorist of striking originality; he was really a fanatic of color, who knew of no restriction except the limits of color itself.  While others endeavor to express the brilliancy and violence of colors, Chavannes solely strove to fathom the psychological qualities of color, the poetry and sentiment it is capable of, in short, in musical charms.”
To Hartmann, Puvis de Chavannnes was Liszt in colors, an artist who, like the virtuoso pianist/composer was ‘striking’ as a color strikes the nerves.”
“His aim was to express music in painting, caring only for decorative effects.  His decorative cynicism  explored the innermost soul of painting. in trying to make painting musical, just as Berlioz and Wagner endeavored to render music pictorial.”  – November 1898.   In a comparison of Japanese and western art, Hartmann singled out Dwight William Tryon, along with Puvis de Chavannes, as successfully integrating Japanese aesthetics in their work.

 “My particular favorite among modern portrait painters – although he is little known in the vocation – is Bastien-Lepage.  Of all the great naturalists who have enriched painting since Courbet and Manet seized the palette.  Bastien-Lepage was the greatest, because his naturalism disdained all pose, always possessed simplicity and dignity, and still was something beyond faithfulness to nature…”  Hartmann added that neither the Greeks nor the Japanese practiced portraiture. 

1. Bessie Buermann - Portrait of Sadakichi Hartmann, 1902, Center for Photography, University of California - Riverside.
2. Karl Struss - Boardwalk.Long Island, 1910, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth. 
3. Alfred Stieglitz - The net Mender, 1894, Art Institute of Chicago.
4. Gertrude Kasebier - The Road To Rome, 1903, camera Work.
5. James McNeill Whistler - Blue and Gold: Rose Azalea,  c. 189-1895, Freer Gallery, Washington, D.C.
6 James McNeill Whistler - Grand Canal - Amsterdam: Nocturne, c. 1883, Freer Gallery, Wasshington, D.C.
7. Thomas Wilmer Dewing - Morning, 1879, Delaware Art Museum, Baltimore.
8. Augustus Saint-Gaudens - Clover Adams Memorial, Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C., courtesy of U.S. National Park Service.
9. Albert Pinkham Ryder - Toilers Of The Sea, c. 188-1885,  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. 
10. Arthur Bowen Davies - Mysterious Barge, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
11. Puvis de Chavannes - Benefits of Peace, 1890, National Gallery of Art, Ottawa.
12.  Jules Bastien Lepage -Ripening Wheat, 1884, Santa Barbara Museum of Art.


Kim said...

wow, wonderful post. So filled with great information and paintings.. Thank you

Neil said...

Fascinating pair of posts, Jane. What a striking looking person he was, and with an equally interesting mind.

Jane said...

Kim, you are welcome. It would take a book to do justice to Hartmann but at least I've tried.

Jane said...

Neil, perhaps because my mother introduced me to Hartmann and to Stefan Zweig, I think of them together. Both were cosmopolitan in a way that we like to think we have initiated through the internet. It was the obliteration of that internationalism by two world wars that drove Zweig to despair. Hartmann didn't kill himself, although in later years he abused himself and abased himself to his inferiors. His status in most histories as a bit player is unjust because it's untrue. I would love to have known Hartmann.

Timothy Cahill said...

Two terrific posts. I've long known of Hartmann, and you're right, always considered him a walk-on among the Photo-Secessionists. His prose on art is potent and thrilling. Who would dare to write with such dash today?! I am equally taken by Bastien Lapage, an artist until now totally unknown to me. This painting is tremendous. Many thanks.

Jane said...

Timothy, it was the unlikely name combination that piqued my curiosity. Then, my local library had "The Whistler Book". A Hartmann biography is definitely on the list of books that need to be written. Another art writer at the same time who deserves to be read - and is even harder to find, but I'm working on it - is Mariana Griswold Van Renssalaer. Whether we don't know about these people or are trying to bury the competition is a good question.

Jane said...

I should have mentioned that Hartmann's parenthetical remark about Albert Pinkham Ryder's painting is more than a figure of speech. Ryder worked his canvases with successive layers of paint and varnish, two substances that dry at different rates of speed. Because he mixed them cavalierly, some canvases didn't dry for years. Dealing with the darkening varnish and cracking paint plagued Ryder's works even during his lifetime.

Timothy Cahill said...

Hi Jane, Perhaps the reason we don't better know these wonderful writers from a century ago is that they write from observation rather than theory. Very unmodern. Look forward to Mariana Griswold Van Renssalear.

I edit an art conservation mag and have heard conservators describe Ryder's unstable methods at length. A number of his paintings are too fragile to travel, some too fragile to exhibit.

Cheers, Tim

Here's the link to the mag, fyi: Art Conservator, http://www.williamstownart.org/news/artconserv11spr.html

Ayesha said...

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Jane said...

Ayesha, thank you. There's so much that's under-appreciated that I can't imagine running out of subjects.

Image Editing Service said...

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Jane said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it and thanks for visiting.