Taking A Hopeful View Of The Future Of American Art; Affording Valuable Hints To The Coming Great Historical Painter; And Showing How A Sudden And Unprecedented Outbreak Of Morality Caused A Lamentable "Hitch" In The Great Final Transformation Scene Of The Majestic Drama Of Impeachment.
Washington, D. C., May 16, 1868.
As we excitedly gaze through a piece of Smoked Glass, my boy, upon the dazzling artistic resources of this distracted country, and contemplate the National Academy of Design, the American Water-Color Society, and the House and Sign Painters' Protective Union, we find ample encouragement for a hope that the aesthetical future will develop some great native wizard of the ladder, pencil, and brush, whose canvas shall worthily portray a few of the more awful and chaste events of our intoxicated national history. Having paid twenty-five cents admission fee to the old lady at the door, and taken checks for their canes from the decayed artist's male orphan in the vestibule, our grandchildren will walk in to survey the pictures after the manner of dispassionate critics. "Oh!"-they will softly whisper to each other, as they stand affably before the paintings, and assume that thoughtfully scowling expression of countenance which is equally indicative of winters' colic, and a cultivated knowledge of the fine arts - "Oh! how grand must these Impeachment scenes lave been to those who beheld them in reality! How much must they have reminded their living spectators of the sublime Senatorial pageants of ancient Rome!" After saying which, and casually recognizing a few spring bonnets of their acquaintance, our grandchildren will probably step out together for a moment to obtain a glass of water and a clove for their colds.
The strict utilitarian will sneer at this artistic anticipation as the mere vision of an enthusiast; the mere wild speculation of some dreamy worshipper of Titian and Rubens, whose sanguine temperament has been unduly fired by an infatuated adoration of the glorious frescoes upon the walls of the Capitol and the sides of the East Broadway omnibuses. But I beg leave to make a pass at the strict utilitarian with a broomstick, and calmly inform him, in the gossipy language of the "Tribune," that he is a perjured traitor to Impeachment, a revolting object to his constituents, and a source of permanent regret to his Maker. Upon a coarser subject I should feel justified in using stronger terms; but art is still a delicate exotic with us, and we must not attempt to dragoon its disbelievers into unity with us by assailing them with violent abuse. I simply repeat, then, that the strict utilitarian is an accursed renegade to all that preserves from the loathing of his fellow-beings any person differing on any subject from myself.
My belief in the exciting future of American Art is not based upon the frescoes on the walls of the Capitol and the sides of the New York omnibuses. No, sir! The members of Congress from my State may unanimously call upon me to resign, or request me to refrain from voting, but I must still adhere to my honest convictions. Great outside pressure being brought to bear upon me, I may, indeed, admit that I once noticed on the interior panels of an Erie railroad-carriage a series of pink-and-blue Scriptural paintings, which showed what native art may yet do toward preparing people's minds for a roll down an embankment, and an accompanying fatal roast in a burning sleeping-car. I may also admit, that much of the finer statuary in and around the Capitol bids fair to find ample appreciation in every American household. during the coming years; mothers saying to their refractory children, "Don't cry now, my dear, or the statue of Benjamin Franklin will come after you." "Go right to sleep, like a good boy, Johnny, or the equestrian figure of General Jackson will catch you." But none of these great works are responsible for my artistic faith in the future.
A true friend of mine (that is, one who tells me of my faults, and seems really to regret that he has none of his own), who lives here in a frame house, got a young artist-acquaintance to do the front of his residence last week, and, as I watched the progress of the chef d'ceuvre, I could not but feel high hopes that the impressive splendors of Impeachment might indeed find a worthy limner at last.
Mounted on a ladder which was not more than twice tall enough for the edifice, and armed with a brush not much larger than his head, the gifted young painter laid on his touches with a boldness and breadth not always limited by the mere width of the house. It must be admitted that he got nearly as much paint upon the ladder and his own clothes as upon the residence, and that, in reaching after some nice effects of light and shade along the gutter-pipe, he produced quite a picturesque and irregular white border on the edge of the red-brick house next door; but the way that he threw chiaro oscuro into the shutters, and painted clean through a pane of glass to the back of a rosewood chair standing inside, was enough to show his genius. And then, when he finally descended to the sidewalk, which looked by this time as though a violent snow-storm were stuck fast to it, and began working-up the stoop in straw-color, I was amazed at the facility of his method. Like other native artists, his drawing was not always exactly correct, -at times he drew his brush so far over the edge that some of the straw-color ran down into the area, and about a pint of it must have passed between the door and sill into the hall,-yet his middle-distance was good, and the place where he rubbed off the paint by sitting down on it to tie his shoe would not be noticed on a dark night. Being no member of the pre-Raphaelite school, and scorning that mechanical minuteness of petty detail which belongs rather to the photographer's drudge than to the true artist, he neglected to paint behind a towel hanging from one of the upper windows, and also left a few bare streaks up near the eaves, but, then, to secure harmony of effect, he painted the door-plate and door-knob with the greatest care.