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Joseph Pennell's Pictures of the Wonder of Work

Joseph Pennell's Pictures of the Wonder of Work
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Title: Joseph Pennell's Pictures of the Wonder of Work
Release Date: 2018-08-08
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Transcriber's Note:

Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

JOSEPH PENNELL'S PICTURESOF THE WONDER OF WORK

Joseph Pennell's Picturesof the Wonder of Work

REPRODUCTIONS OF A SERIES OF DRAWINGS,ETCHINGS, LITHOGRAPHS, MADE BYHIM ABOUT THE WORLD, 1881-1915, WITHIMPRESSIONS AND NOTES BY THE ARTIST

Logo

PHILADELPHIA AND LONDON
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
1916

COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY JOSEPH PENNELL

PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER, 1915
REPRINTED OCTOBER, 1916

PRINTED BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
AT THE WASHINGTON SQUARE PRESS
PHILADELPHIA, U. S. A.

I WISH IN THIS BOOK TO HONOR
CONSTANTIN MEUNIER
THE PROPHET ANDEXPONENT OF THEWONDER OF WORK

THE WONDER OF WORK INTRODUCTION

Work to-day is the greatest thing in the world, and the artistwho best records it will be best remembered. Work hasalways been an inspiration to artists, from the time when we weretold to earn our bread by the sweat of our brow, till now, whenmost of us are trying to forget the command, and act like "ladies andgentlemen."

Under the Church, work—the building of the Tower of Babel andthe Temple—was the subject of endless imaginings by painters, sculptorsand gravers who never assisted at the functions they illustrated.Painters, who sat in their studios hundreds of years after the towersand temples were designed and destroyed, have showed what theyimagined the towers and the temples looked like. This—this sort ofcreation or invention—we art students in America called "geniuswork" because it was "done out of our heads." In Europe it iscalled "scholarly," and is concocted from a classical dictionary; a tripfor a few weeks to Greece or Italy is useful but not necessary, andadds to the expense; illustrated post cards may be used instead.

Now educated people, cultured people, take such painters seriously—andpay to sit in darkened chambers and brood. These are carefullybut sadly illuminated, and the spectators pursue with diligence, scarcelooking at the exhibits, the remarks of critics who prove conclusivelythat these painters show exactly what the world was like, what buildingswere like and how they were built, and how the builders workedaccording to the bookman and archæologist, and the critic.

Now as to these popular forms of art—the backbone of academics,—Iknow, for I am a multi-academician—I have nothing to say. Theresults, in a few instances, have been works of art because of excellenceof technique. But the man with the greatest imagination is the manwith the greatest information about his own surroundings, which heuses so skilfully that we call the result imagination, and this is the waythe greatest art of the world has been created.

I am not disputing the power, in their day, nor the charm theystill have—for the very few who understand—of Cimabue, of Giotto,of the painters of the Campo Santo at Pisa, when they painted thesubjects I have mentioned, nor of Pintoricchio—he put work in thebackground of his paintings, as Dürer did in his prints. And thereis a wonderful building of a cathedral by Van Eyck in Antwerp. Thereare compositions by Bellini and Carpaccio which show they studiedwork. It is strange, so far as I know, that Leonardo ignored work—inhis pictures—he who was such a great workman, yet vowed hecould paint with any one, amongst his other accomplishments. But,with all these artists, either work was a detail or imaginative; it wasnever the dominant motive, never a study of work for work's sake.There are a few records in sculpture, most notable amongst thembeing the Assyrian Reliefs at the British Museum. Curiously, I amunable to find, though they must exist, any sculptures, reliefs or paintingsof the great architectural work of the Egyptians—or those of theGreeks either. In the Bayeux tapestries there is the work of the shipbuilderand porter.

The first artist I know of—though I am not an art historian—tosee the pictorial possibility of work, the Wonder of Work for Work'sSake, was Rembrandt.

Rembrandt saw that his father's mill was beautiful, and by hisrenderings of the windmills and the dykes of Holland proved them thegreat works of his little country, and showed they were pictorial. Andhe drew, etched and painted them because he loved their big powerfulforms, their splendid sails, the way they lorded the land and kept outthe sea. They were for him the Wonder of Work, the wondrousworks of his time, the works that were all about him. So strong andso powerful were these Dutch works that they have lasted till to-day,and so well were they designed that all windmills and watermills havekept their form till now. The working parts have possibly been improved,but the design has not been changed, and Rembrandt's etchings—soaccurately drawn they would serve as working models—proveit. And yet Rembrandt has made a perfect artistic compositionas well as a true mechanical rendering of these mills and dykes. Andas Whistler said in the "Ten O'clock," the Bible of Art, Rembrandtregretted not that the Jews of the Ghetto were not Greeks, nor—mayI add?—did he regret the windmills were not temples.

Then came Claude and found the Wonder of Work in commercialharbours, dominated by necessary lighthouses, and in the hustlingcities of Civita Vecchia and Genoa—for it is amid the work, the lifeof one's own time, that the Wonder of Work is to be found.

Canaletto followed, and saw in the building of Venice the sameinspiration that Tintoret found in her history, Titian in her great men.And Piranesi discovered the prisons, the Carceri, to be as enthrallingas the ruins of Rome.

Turner imitated Claude. Claude saw his subjects about him;Turner used Claude's motives and tried to rival his predecessor.Claude painted what he saw in his own time; Turner tried to reconstructhis unconscious rival's facts out of his head, and failed even inhis rendering of work about him, signally in Steam, Rain, Speed,where an impossible engine conducts itself in an incredible fashionin a magnificent landscape. Turner was not here trying to carry ontradition—the only thing worth doing in art—but to embêter lesbourgeois—and Ruskin!

Turner's Carthage would not stand up, if built—Claude's palacesdo. Turner, too, defying Ruskin—Ruskin anathematising workadayEngland—was a spectacle. But Turner was sometimes in the right,with Constable and Crome, and they, and not Ruskin, have triumphed.Turner had magnificent ideas, wonderful colour sense, grand composition.But when he came to fact he was often ridiculous or pitiful,simply because he had not observed work, noted facts—and to paintwork one must study work. And lately I was given a print from aBook of Beauty by Allom of a coke furnace, while Mr. Joseph Jacksonhas discovered a painting of a forge by Bass Otis in the PennsylvaniaAcademy of the Fine Arts—surprisingly well done, both are, too.

It is far easier to paint a heavenly host or a dream city in one'sstudio than to make a decoration out of a group of miners, or to drawa rolling mill in full blast. Yet one of these subjects can be as nobleas the other, as Whistler proved, when he showed for the first timehow in London "the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky,and the tall chimneys become campanile, and the warehouses arepalaces in the night, and the whole city hangs in the heavens andfairyland is before us." That is the Gospel of the Wonder of Work.

Though I never studied under Whistler—never was his pupil—heis and always will be my master—the master of the modern world,the master who will endure. Because he glorified the things abouthim, the things he knew, by "The Science of the Beautiful." Whatare the Thames etchings—"Wapping," "The Last of Old Westminster,""The Nocturnes"—but records of work? A fact mostcritics have never realised. But Whistler was a many-sided—a somany-sided—genius that his many essays in many fields are only justbecoming known, and this study of work—the most difficult studyin the world, under the most trying conditions—was never abandonedby him till he said what he wanted, in the ways he wanted, not till hehad made a series of masterpieces which live and will live forever.

But there was a man—all the great have gone from us in the lastfew years, which accounts for the momentary popularity of the little—therewas a man who gave his later life to the Wonder of Work—ConstantinMeunier.

"Un jour—Meunier approchait déjà de la cinquantaine—CamilleLemonnier l'emmena dans le Hainaut: il devait y faire quelquesillustrations pour La Belgique. Ce voyage de Meunier à travers leBorinage lui fut une révélation. Il s'y découvrit lui-même, il ydécouvrit son art. Dans ce sombre paysage de fumée et de feu, dansle halètement formidable des fabriques, parmi les farouches mineurset les puddleurs et les verriers, toute une humanité damnée à la peine,son âme tragique s'emplit de cette pitié et de cette admiration quidevaient résonner à travers tout son art. Il avait conquis son propredomaine.

"Meunier a conquis à l'art la beauté spéciale de la nouvelle industrie:la formidable fabrique, pleine de lumière sombre et de tonnerre,les fêtes flamboyantes des fonderies, la puissance grondante desmachines. Et toujours cette tendance est au monumental.

"L'hymne au Travail chante avec plus de force lyrique encoredans ses bronzes."

This was his life work, and the life of his world, the world, as withWhistler, around him, for "that is best which nearest lieth." Courbetin work had influenced Legros and Brett and Millet and Segantini,and I have no doubt Ford Madox Brown, the man too big to be apre-Raphaelite, whose biggest picture is work—"Work in London"—theman who will one day make Manchester a place of pilgrimagebecause of his pictures of work and of war in the Town Hall.

The Japanese count for a little in work, Hokusai and Hiroshigi.Repine and De Nittis, L'Hermette, Bastien-Lepage, Tissot, Ridley,and W. L. Wyllie have shown the Wonder of Work, the last three onthe Thames; and hundreds of imitators of these men have starvedpeasants, herded kine, rowed boats, and sat in harvest fields, andhauled barges, because they thought it the correct thing to do, or elsethat they could work the sentimental, pathetic, socialistic game as adiversion from mummy's darling, baby and the mustard-pot, dearlittle doggie, or poor old Dobbin. I do not mean to say there have notbeen, there are not, artists who have cared for the work and workersof the fields for their own sake: there are some; but I wish to speakonly of

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