Betrayed by High-Sounding Phrases

Henry Williamson, “I Believe in the Men Who Died,” Daily Express (17 September 1928):

I am standing on a duckboard by a flooded and foul beek in the Salient, listening in the flare-pallid rainy darkness to the cries of tens of thousands of wounded men lost in the morasses of third Ypres. To seek them is to drown with them… The living are still toiling on, homeless and without horizons, doing dreadful things under heaven that none want to do, through the long wet days and the longer nights, the weeks, the months, of a bare, sodden winter out of doors.

The survivors are worn out; some of them, tested beyond breaking point, put the muzzles of their rifles in their mouths, in the darkness of the terrible nights, and pull the trigger.

Those at home, sitting in armchairs and talking proudly of patriotism and heroism, will never realise the bitter contempt and scorn the soldiers have for these and other abstractions; the soldiers feel they have been betrayed by the high-sounding phrases that heralded the war, for they know that the enemy soldiers are the same men as themselves, suffering and disillusioned in exactly the same way…

And in the stupendous roar and light-blast of the final barrage that broke the Hindenburg line I see only one thing, which grows radiant before my eyes until it fills all my world: the sight of a Saxon boy half crushed under a shattered tank, moaning ‘Mutter, Mutter, Mutter’, out of ghastly grey lips. A British soldier, wounded in the leg, and sitting nearby, hears the words, and, dragging himself to the dying boy, takes his cold hand and says: ‘All right, son, it’s all right. Mother’s here with you.’

Frederick Varley, For What? (1917-1919)

Lesser Ury

Lesser Ury, Abend im Café Bauer (1898)
Lesser Ury, Holländische Landschaft (1913)
Lesser Ury, Berliner Strassenszene (1921)
Lesser Ury, Hochbahnhof Bülowstraße (1922)

Leo Lesser Ury was born on this day in 1861.

Note to self: A number of Adolph Donath’s articles about Ury from Der Kunstwanderer have been digitized by the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg. Martin Buber also included a section on Ury in his book about Jewish artists (Berlin: Juedischer Verlag, 1903), pp. 45-71.

What Matters It?

George P. A. Healy, Reminiscences of a Portrait Painter (Chicago: A.C. McClurg and Co., 1894), pp. 72-73:

As I look back upon my long life, as I think of the early years in Paris at the time when Gros killed himself, when Delacroix, that audacious young innovator, excited the anger and contempt of Ingres, when the landscapes of Corot were refused at the Salon, when my old and dear friend Couture was considered a revolutionary spirit not to be encouraged by the authorities, I can but smile — a little sadly, perhaps — at the violence of the young men of our day, who in their turn will be looked upon as old fogies by the youths of thirty or forty years hence. And so the world goes on! Fashion changes; the beautiful of yesterday is the grotesque of to-day. What matters it? Each generation as it comes to life does its best, struggles, suffers, hopes, or despairs; it adds its little stone to the big edifice which is ever being built; the little stone is lost among others, forgotten, overlooked; but it has helped nevertheless to make the wall solid and beautiful. And that surely is something.

I enjoyed this book — full of interesting anecdotes, nothing contrived or mean. I am adding Healy to my list of candidates for the “If you were to share a meal with a famous person…” parlour game.

George P. A. Healy, Portrait of the Artist (1851)

Landscape Painting

Thomas Couture, Paysage: Entretiens d’atelier (Paris : Typ. de L. Guérin, 1867), p. 139 (my translation):

As I have already said, and it is something one cannot say too often, landscapes are an artistic degradation; the category never existed in the golden age of painting, and yet Raphael, Correggio, Titian, Veronese, Rubens, Rembrandt, Velasquez (and others still) were the greatest landscape painters in the world.
Poussin should not be considered a landscape painter, but a philosophical painter, and that is what makes his style inimitable.
Claude Lorrain is not a landscape painter, but a painter of light and boundlessness, and that is what makes his style inimitable.
And so the landscape artist’s role begins with a certain mental inferiority.

I disagree with Couture, but enjoy reading his diatribes.

This book is a companion volume to his Méthode et entretiens d’atelier; it is not included in the English edition, Conversations on Art Methods (New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1879).

Claude Lorrain, An Artist Studying from Nature (1639)

Note to self: On Claude see Joachim von Sandrart, Teutsche Academie (Nürnberg: 1675), pp. 558 ff. and Roger Fry, The Drawings of Claude (London: Burlington Magazine, 1907).

The Hush of a Great Library

Gerald Stanley Lee, The Lost Art of Reading (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907), pp. 93-94:

The question that concerns me is, What shall a man do, how shall he act, when he finds himself in the hush of a great library, — opens the door upon it, stands and waits in the midst of it, with his poor outstretched soul all by himself before it, — and feels the books pulling on him? I always feel as if it were a sort of infinite crossroads. The last thing I want to know in a library is exactly what I want there. I am tired of knowing what I want. I am always knowing what I want. I can know what I want almost anywhere. If there is a place left on God’s earth where a modern man can go and go regularly and not know what he wants awhile, in Heaven’s name why not let him? I am as fond as the next man, I think, of knowing what I am about, but when I find myself ushered into a great library I do not know what I am about any sooner than I can help. I shall know soon enough — God forgive me! When it is given to a man to stand in the Assembly Room of Nations, to feel the ages, all the ages, gathering around him, flowing past his life; to listen to the immortal stir of Thought, to the doings of The Dead, why should a man interrupt — interrupt a whole world — to know what he is about? I stand at the junction of all Time and Space. I am the three tenses. I read the newspaper of the universe.

The Duke of Aumale’s reading room at Chantilly