« AnkstesnisTęsti »
It was at this time that the master's health began to fail. Exposure to all sorts of weather, absorbing the miasmatic vapors of morning and evening on the rivers, had no doubt told severely upon his sensitive and delicate temperament, and renewed attacks of asthmatic gout cut seriously into his painting time. He did not appear at the Salon of 1875; it was his first absence since 1848. In 1876, however, he sent "The Orchard," an immense canvas, some ten feet in length, depicting the time when apples are ripe, and are gathered under the changeful sky of breezy October. The whole effect was that of a "symphony in green," relieved here and there by the richly colored fruit, and touches of flowers among the grasses. The summer of 1876 was spent on the Normandy coast at Dieppe, and he there made a number of studies, among them a " View of Dieppe," which appeared in the Salon of 1877. With it he sent another "Moonrise," contrasting in its tender poetry with the vigor of the first-named picture, which he had completed in two sittings, one for the drawing and another for the painting. His malady gained fast upon him, however, and a hypertrophy of the heart suddenly carried him off on February 19, 1878, just as he had completed the sixty-first year of his age. We have not spoken of his etchings and illustrations. He was one of the revivers of the former art, and the many powerful plates that he left testify to his power with the needle, both as a means of expressing new ideas, or in re
ENGRAVED BY E. KINGSLEY.
producing his best work. Whether on copper or canvas, he always treated his subject in the same broad, masterly manner, keeping the means subservient to the end pursued, and no artist has left work showing wider range or versatility. His works record the beauty of his own country, for while he visited Italy in his youth, England in 1866 and 1870, Spain in company with Henri Regnault in 1868, and Holland, which he describes "as blond as the women of Rubens," in 1871, he does not seem to have found in these places the inspiration for his greatest pictures.
In appearance he was of medium height, his complexion inclining toward olive, with dark hair and eyes, a strongly set head and forehead, well filled in its reflective and perceptive portions, and of an open, sympathetic expression, indicating much bonhomie, and at the same time great penetration and power to discriminate. In manner he was genial, modest, and entirely without assumption, giving his counsels more as a comrade than as a master; his advice having weight from its intrinsic worth, rather than from any manner of imparting it. His whole nature was childlike in its impulsive directness. He never kept systematic account of his works or progress: it was his to do the work; others might reckon up and classify. His methods were extremely simple. He usually prepared his own canvases, and continued this practice long after a world-wide reputation would make it appear
to be anything but an economical use of his time. He would begin a picture by sketching in a few broad traits with charcoal or brush, and then lay in his masses freely, keeping the colors from the start clear, rich, and pure. The palette-knife played an important part in covering large surfaces, which he afterward worked into form and detail with the brush. For smaller pictures and his river studies he preferred panels of oak and mahogany, first coated with a priming of neutral gray. He was one of the first painters to begin and complete large canvases out of doors. He would fasten them in place with stout stakes, working with fury when the effect was propitious, often leaving them in the open fields during the intervals to the mercy of wind, weather, cows, and small boys. The truths he sought were of far more vital importance than surface polish, and this direct outdoor work, guided by his artist's instinct, gave to his pictures great freshness of execution, as well as an added interest from the point of view of composition and sentiment. He painted as freely as a bird sings. His joyous, emotional temperament rarely looked at life and art with the deep melancholy view of Millet. Perhaps we find more of the joy of springtime in his earlier works, and later on come the "moonrises" and "twilights," when life's cares had awakened in his heart a deeper sympathy with the tender mysteries of eve and night. He never philosophized much about art or reduced his ideas to literary form. A lack of early education had left him ignorant of books in general, and his work gave him but little time to study them afterward, had he so desired. This, however, may have made him more purely a painter, thinking always in form and color, free from any foreign preoccupation whatever, content to express the joy he felt in nature just as he received it. "What does it matter?" he would say. "There are always people who are paid to know all one has need of, without counting the dictionaries." And so he did not stop painting to read. Particularly did he enjoy the society of his chosen comrades, and no social pleasure could compare with a quiet evening at home, or with friends, discuss ing art. He loved his house and home, and was his children's best playmate. Seldom was the table without guests, and here his kindly humor made every one feel happy. Whether at the Emperor's reception or in a laborer's cottage, a like politeness was extended to all, and the peasants of Auvers remember him with respect and affection. They might not fully have understood his pictures or their importance to the art-world, but they felt his fine personality and genuine interest in their life and work. When he was painting "The Island of the Valleys at Auvers," just after having con
cluded the purchase of the property on which he built his studio, he amused himself by telling them, "This picture is to pay for my house," and it was sold for thirty-five thousand francs. If a French peasant understands anything it is the value of a sou, and this immense amount to the rustic minds gave them forever afterward great respect for painters and painting.
"Ah," said to me Ferdinand Guilpin, his old gardener, "he was a good, kind man, M. Daubigny; the goodness of such people cannot be told. And M. Corot, too, he used to put on his blouse, light his pipe, and sit down to paint in the middle of the road like any workman. He had a merry word for all who passed, and was a rare good fellow. Those were the times when 'les vallées' were full of life. Monsieur Daubigny would go off on the plain in the early morning, work an hour or two, and then start for the river. Sometimes he would come to draw my donkey, or have some rabbits let loose in the kitchen here to sketch from. I always attended to his garden, in which he was very much interested, and it was a great loss to me when he died. Such times will never come again." Then Mère Sophie, his good wife, chimed in: "And don't I remember how we took the Prussians in here during the war to keep them from spoiling M. Daubigny's house. I had the keys, and knew he would not like the place being ransacked, so I stowed them all away here. It was only for a few days, but when monsieur came he made me a very handsome present; and M. Karl, poor child, who was in the National Guard during the siege of Paris, when at last he was dismissed from service, ran straight across the country here, in the night, without stopping. I was out in the yard in the early morning, and when he arrived he called out, Jardinière, jardinière, some milk, give me some milk!' He was terribly thin and worn, and I thought he would never stop drinking. Then he went into the house, threw himself on a bed just as he was, and slept for twenty-four hours."
And so the old folks, seated at each side of the big open fireplace on a Sunday afternoon, when Ferdinand has lighted his pipe after having shaved, will gossip on, lingering with regret over the eventful days of the past.
Daubigny never hesitated if his impulses carried him toward new experiments. He boldly undertook them, regardless of profit or loss. When death came it found him still occupied with new problems, and several large unfinished canvases make one regret that the master's hand should have been stayed so soon. But as he himself said, "One is never reasonable; like La Fontaine's wood-cutter, we never wish to be making the last fagot." In his frank, extemporaneous way of working he seemed to
have set himself free from all schools and influences, yet the early lessons learned from Poussin, Ruysdael, Claude Lorrain, and during his visit to Italy, always remained with him, and gave an elevation and largeness to his own fine, innate sense of composition. Perhaps no landscapist ever enjoyed the velvety richness of vegetation more than he, and he never failed to carry his greens up to the key of nature. A less refined painter would have gone beyond, into crudity; but while attempting the greatest possible brilliancy, he always stopped at the right place. Nature, seen through his eye, was never crude; and after all, is it not the eye that determines all differences of quality in painting? There is no absolute truth; we each see and do as our organization permits, and a universal standard of judgment decides what is best.
Daubigny brought into landscape-art greater freshness and spontaneity than had yet been seen, and his work first seizes you by its force, and then charms you. As poems of nature thrown off in the heat of passion and feeling, so his works affect you, and continue to do so the more they are studied. "He painted better than he knew" when with palette-knife and brush he dashed in effects instantaneously, and one wonders how so much can be expressed by such slight means. He was among the first "impressionists," and "realism" was one of his mottos, but how different his art from that too often called by these names to-day. It was not the coarse materiality, the surface qualities, and the bare optical effect alone that he sought to render. He penetrated deeper, and the surface was always the outgrowth and expression of a spiritual center. The thing and the thought, the spirit and the matter, were equally balanced, and never did he put a touch of color to canvas that had not first passed, no matter how rapidly, through his own spiritual self. His interpretation of nature was direct, and he sought to obtain scientific truth; but art, too, for him was expression, never mere reasonless imitation alone. A presiding intelligence, and still farther back an impulse of soul, directed the production of all his works. He found his ideal in the real, and set to work to record it. Thus each work was the result of a fresh emotion, expressed in its own way; and if you see fifty pictures by Daubigny you will find each different in conception, color, and execution, as the motive itself differs. The great amount of illustrating done in his earlier days had much humanized his art, and he dropped in figures and animals here and there most happily, not always drawn with academic precision, but full of life and movement, taking their proper place in the effect of the whole. There are drawings by him that show he could refine as well as any when he chose; but he valued life and move
ment more than photographic precision, and these he always obtained. There was a rude vigor in his technic, tempered by great delicacy in the perception of tones and tints, that adds interest by its very antithesis. He did not reach results by feeling after them so much as by grasping his subject firmly and by painting it at once. His entire freedom from false pride and personal vanity is vividly shown in the following anecdotes:
"Come," said he one day to a friend, “ I am going to pain.. the Botin." The friend followed to see the production, as he thought, of another masterly sketch, and was much surprised, on arriving at the river, to see Daubigny arm himself with brush and paint-pot and lay in vigorously on the side of his beloved boat. It had not occurred to him, with his usual habit of self-help, that the village house-painter's time would be less valuable. At another time, in July, 1874, just after his promotion to the grade of Officer of the Legion of Honor, he had come up to Paris to pay the usual visit to the Minister of Fine Arts. Returning to his home on the Boulevard Clichy, in full dress of black with white necktie, he was met by Vollon, who demanded:
"What are you doing here, with the thermometer at ninety in the shade?" "A duty visit; but I am off again to-morrow," replied Daubigny.
"Then you are alone?" "Yes."
"Come to dinner at my house." "Willingly," and arm in arm they walked over to Vollon's.
"But, now I come to think of it," said Vollon," my wife is also in the country, so we must turn housekeepers, and prepare our dinner."
Off they went to the baker's, grocer's, winemerchant's, and roasting-shop, soon reappearing, Daubigny with a loaf of bread under one arm, a bottle of wine under the other, and with papers of pepper and salt sticking out of each pocket, while Vollon, with a view to saving the new officer's broadcloth, took charge of the turkey and other fatty purchases.
Some extracts from letters to his friend Henriet also give clear glimpses of the inner man. In 1860 he writes:
I have bought at Auvers thirty perches of land, all covered with beans, on which I shall plant some legs of mutton when you come to see me. They are building me a studio there, some eight by six meters, with several rooms around it, which will serve me, I hope, next spring. The Père Corot has found Auvers very fine, and has engaged me to make rustic landscapes with figures. to fix myself there for a part of the year, wishing I shall be truly well off there, in the midst of a good little farming country, where the ploughs do not yet go by steam.