New York

“19th Century American Drawings, Pastels and Watercolors”

Kennedy Galleries

This is an appropriate moment to mention, however briefly, a show of 19th-century American watercolors, drawings and pastels at the Kennedy Galleries. The important thing about it is how much better it is than a show of oils would be by these same artists, who are on the whole not the best artists. In oils, most of them do work that is petrified; or bombastic, or both; but in a less ambitious medium the pressure is off, and the work shows a corresponding gain in suppleness, if not quite always in sensitivity. Who would expect, from David Claypoole Johnston, an adequately managed arrangement of values in a generally Baroque mode; or a Bricher that is not far below Alfred Stevens; or so complete a fusion of the cosmopolitan elegance of the neo-classical line with the native-son genre as we see here in Chalfant; or for that matter a W. T. Richards that approximated—well, maybe not Brett, who he is thinking of most, but at least Maclise; or the great many other pieces such as an artist of respectable talent and training could produce if he does not force himself? It is, in the end, sad that most American artists of the last century did their best work on the fringes of what they themselves considered to be high culture.

Jerrold Lanes