San Francisco

“Henry P. McIllhenney Collection”

California Palace of the Legion of Honor

What is art? For whose spirit is its lift? If it depress or merely bore or leave unmoved, may one question the art; or rather, must enquiry be addressed only to the failing spirit? How can the spirit be so taken by work of little renown (Tom Holland, even Robert Hudson) and be left unmoved and disappointed in this brown (tobacco stain) room, among these brown paintings in brown gold frames? Is it the French spirit that fails, or is it the 20th Century American, victim of irredeemable new lusts of body and soul, who finds never a satisfaction?—But there is the bitter curl of mouth in Mme. Cézanne and an unnamed slather-lip at the Moulin Rouge. There is a hungry breast hanging in Prud’hon and a sweetheart dancing with her lover by the river; a pathetic attempt to recapture through pseudo-science the serenity of the past via pointillism, and a premonitory bedroom tableau; an idiot-bitch in green satin and a lecher in a high white collar near a neurotic young man of 1820. Maybe the pictures merely need cleaning. We can almost read our longing written on their faces, but the veil intercepts and we turn away, insatiable on the wrong side of paradise.

Fred Martin