New York

Neglected Nineteenth Century

H. Shickman Gallery

When I reviewed the first installment of the Shickman Gallery’s the Neglected Nineteenth Century, I tried to make two general points. The first was that these artists are not really “neglected” any longer. The second was that the dichotomy that is usually posited, and that the show perpetuated, between academics on the one hand and modernists on the other, is untenable in the face of the facts, whether the facts are taken to be the paintings themselves or the professional activity of the artists when they were not painting. This second exhibition of similar material, which is on the whole not up to the level of the first, occasions the same general remarks.

For the rest, one can only single out particular ideas as they happen to strike one. Ribot runs away with the show, certainly, and one of the paintings by him, The Musicians, is as fine as anything he did, so far as I know. In style it combines Rembrandtesque Caravaggism with Goya; its theme involves a kind of romantic realism of which the literary equivalent would be found in Balzac; and in both these respects it is entirely typical of its time—Manet’s early work was done in the same ambience. But Ribot is one of those minor masters of whom a a purely historical characterization seems inadequate to account for the quality of the work. There is no question in Ribot’s case of a subjective vision—he paints objects, not projected subjects; one has to look to historical or at least cultural factors, and at that point one realizes how much remains to be understood about this period of art.

The Dutch baroque element is of course part of a very large current of influence, in which the landscapist Georges Michel played a crucial role. I said this in connection with the first part of the show, but I have to repeat it with greater emphasis now. It has to be kept in mind that Michel was born in 1763, only thirteen years after Valenciennes, and that Michallon was another of his contemporaries; in fact one can find in many of his views, as in many of Constable’s, large doses of the picturesque. But the Dutch influence, and the kind of handling Michel developed out of that, took him far beyond any established 18th-century mode. Much more than Corot, it is Michel who provided the link between that earlier period and the Barbizon group and Courbet at about the middle of the next century.

The only other substantial point I have to make concerns one of the Coutures, The Falconer, and the Cabanel. The Couture starts with genre and the Cabanel with history painting, but they meet in the middle of those two kinds or registers of painting. In this respect both represent very well a hybrid—in subject or theme regardless of the particular handling—that was so very important at a time when history painting, having lost the position it once had held, was the object of an attempted rehabilitation: the narrative or action becomes either implicit or sentimental, since the collective values that had once served to support it have been lost.

Jerrold Lanes