Woman in Art/Chapter 6 - Wikisource, the free online library

Woman in Art - Woman's Building.png


The above illustration shows the eastern exposure of the Woman's Building, facing the Lagoon. The building was planned by Miss Sophia G. Hayden of Boston. The pediment and statues on the roof line were designed by Miss Alice Rideout of California, and the caryatides were modeled by Miss Yandell of Kentucky. All of the decorations were conceived and executed by women. The size of the building is 400 x 200 feet. The style of architecture is Italian Renaissance. In artistic conception, delicacy of line, and grace of detail, it is a fitting example of the high position held by women in the world of art.


Modern Types. More Thought and Activity Comes to Woman. Application of the Golden Rule In Character and Art. Enlightenment Means Progress.

Every key in art or music has its relative minor, and beauty finds its relative minor in pathos.

It is a long step from the Renaissance to nineteenth century art. Our subject demands long steps, for human evolution is slow, requiring several generations in earlier centuries to produce a marked change. The painters of the Renaissance depicted "holy" characters, virgins, madonnas, and saints evolved from sinners, and seemed to realize that appealing beauty developed from the spiritual within. We know how right they were.

There were other women in Holland than burgomasters' wives; women who could not afford to dress in elegance, or pay for paintings of any sort; women absorbed in the problems of keeping soul and body together, gleaning happiness from home love and the sunshine between cloud shadows.

Joseph Israels seems to stand as the connecting link between the past and present art of Holland. Himself of the lowly, his boyhood snatches of youth and joy, led him to paint the fleeting happinesses of childhood; barefoot on the shore gathering shells, sailing their crude boats, or filling baskets with sea weed and mussels, happy in the sunshine for a little, before returning to the fisherman's hut. He painted young girls "Knitting in the Sun"; fish-wives sorting the "Catch" from the beached boats; women in short skirts, sabots, and flaring white bonnets weeding long rows of flowers or vegetables—their every-day toil.

As Israels went on through the years, his heart and brush struck with more fullness into minor chords of life; ruggedness and rags, tenderness and tears, sorrow and suffering were dominant harmonies on many a canvas that has taught the world of life, of sympathy, and love.

Look again. In the hill country of France a shepherd's daughter tending her father's sheep. Rumors of war and injustice came to her uneducated mind, and unlocked a secret door of her heart. Loyalty abode there and awoke at sound of an unseen message. Jeanne d'Arc followed the voice and France was saved. Jeanne was sacrificed, a burnt offering for her country.

Was woman's soul enlarging? More and more we find woman entering into the world's work and into history; more and more has she entered into art by the hand of man, lending to the canvas beauty, grace, and strength. The Maid of Orleans has been the theme for many painters, and the large canvas in the Metropolitan Museum in New York is one of the largest and most interesting. Bastien Lepage has visualized the spirit who from overhanging boughs of leafage whispers the message of her country's need to the wondering maid. Her homely duties forgotten, her soul absorbs and her mind cons the plight of the nation.

Jules Eugene Lenepveu has put the story into five scenes as mural history, on the walls of the Pantheon in Paris. Her life was short, but in those months between her call to arms and the call for her soul to arise from the flaming pyre, the painter has shown that experience developed her soul, and so deepened the modeling of her face.

We turn again to Holland.

There are some pictures of woman's life in Holland that do not need to be photographed to be remembered. A Saturday sunset enticed the writer to walk along a country dyke. Willows leaned toward the unruffled water below. A mile from the little hamlet on the opposite side of the canal, a tiny cottage stood in the midst of its garden. Close to the house a few trees red with cherries and a few clothes on the line caught a high-light from the sun. A buxom woman came to the water's edge and dumped an apronful of sabots—assorted sizes—on the grass. Down she knelt, produced a small scrub brush and a cake of soap, and began the weekly scrub of the family "shoon, the wooden shoon." Returning half an hour later there they were, arranged in two rows—eighteen sabots, clean and white; presumably every pair of them went to kirk next morning.

High or lowly, of private interpretation of public service, such are maids and madonnas of duty and every-day life; saints of the home.

Through intervening centuries the social status of woman in Europe has been sad and degrading in many ways. Education beyond a certain point was denied her; house and field duties enslaved her body and mind—ignorance was an incubus on her life and influence as a woman. By slow degrees she has been emancipated, but only in part. The deep lines of demarkation between royalty, nobility, clergy, and peasantry have been held taut to the outbreak of the World War. Warfare with its suffering and death brings humanity to a common level, but not all at once—that is a fine art that belongs to Time.

A new art came to France, and hence to the world, in the early part of the nineteenth century, through the heart and mind of Jean Francois Millet. The experience of poverty, and an unspoiled heart, furnished his equipment for picturing the simple life of the people of his native Normandy, and this he did with inimitable freedom of air and action. He was the first to see a picturesque element in the humble domestic activities of the country folk. He was but a youth when he sketched "Ma Mere et les Poulet;" an every-day scene that speaks of naturalness, and the influence of the cottage mother and grandmother on the boy, who was to illuminate the art and life of France, and make the heart of the world responsive to human sympathy. The sketch was painted to suggest a memory to him, and to many another who has had the good fortune to know life from the ground up. As "ma mere" scatters feed for the chickens, the baby from the doorstep expresses his delight in the feathered portion of the family. Boy and man, Millet always loved that familiar scene, The loving and dutiful mother and grandmother were daily-life saints to him, and in later years his sympathy for women of the bent back led to his painting "The Gleaners." Yonder the harvest is stacked at the outskirt of the village, recalling that from the days of the Hebrew Ruth the poor have been gleaners after harvest.

Another peasant woman Millet has given to the world. She is tired with household duties before she goes afield; the pathetic element mingles with and dulls the spirit and the scene, and so has the sympathizer with woman's work painted a mother with her water jug on her shoulder starting afield. Her day's work will thrash out an apronful of wheat for the family supply.

Here we are reminded of lines of an American poet:

"Blessed are they that work
For they shall inherit the earth
In the dawning day."

But alas! many have folded the weary hands before the dawn of the new day; but their inheritance will multiply to their children's children.

Another picture—a world picture—"The Angelus" sounded the religious note in modern art. As a unit "The Angelus" sounded the Renaissance of our modern art.

The expression of soul in its sincerity and devotion as the man and woman pause work, in response to the distant bell calling to evening prayer, was an oasis in the field of art and in the eagerness of the nineteenth century; it rang true to the religious instinct in men who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Bastien Lepage depicts a pitiful condition of woman in civilized France. Something more than the weary spirit and body is on the canvas titled "Rest." A pitiful vacancy is in the stolid face of the woman who looks into space or at nothing. Her mind is limited to her little spot of life. Her man lies asleep on the grain he has cut. They have their dejeuner near the hedgerow. He takes his rest. The woman seems to have a problem to solve, but one feels that thought is not in her undeveloped mind, the poor woman does not know how to think; but these are they that have lacked opportunity. The element of progress is theirs. So is life in the rose bushes under the gardener's bench of sand; cold air and darkness prevent them for a time, but the impetus of light, warmth and water—elements congenial to their nature—produces rapid blooming. We see this, and are surprised at the rapid strides made by our foreign-born Americans. The mind awakens and is alert in the air of freedom and opportunity—but not in all.

Jules Breton has given an impetus of uplift in "The Song of the Lark," another world picture. A young girl fresh from sleep has paused on her way to work in the early morning and is listening to the cascade of mellow music from the upper air. She watches and listens as he sings and soars. The picture is of life. Her lips are parted as if responding with earth's alto to the heavenly notes of joy. The girl is uplifted by the beauty of the dawn, of the song and the pulsing air, nor is conscious that they play upon her soul. Thus we see that happiness must enter into the process of development no less than longing.

When happiness and labor go hand in hand the sunshine of life is brightest, the world is wider, and it is ours.

But sunshine and shade commingle. "In the Flax Barn," we see that commingling; beneath the sky that truth holds. There is merriment in some faces, sadness in others at their long task back and forth, back and forth, yet the trend of industry is happiness—if love lightens labor.

Frantz Liebermann's painting helps us to realize the fact. Volkenburg's study of women led him back in time, yet his pictures prove to us, especially in the "Gossips," that busy hands and tongues keep time in all lands and in all ages.

The house furnishings may seem modern in some respects, but are preserved from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The massive locker, in-a-door bed, carved chairs, plate rails, seem not remote from today. But we are copyists. The land is Holland. Volkenburg sketched true to life in Dordrecht today, so slowly does the wheel of change turn in that northern Venice.

Not spinning, but knitting, and the social cup of tea we have inherited, also the pride and pleasure in household belongings, bric-a-brac, et cetera, no less than the heart's enjoyment of a choice bit of gossip or news, all belong to our femininity. The artist has admirably portrayed the spirit of those visiting dames in their expressive attitudes and pleasure, that light up the otherwise careworn faces.

Ever in life as in art, the old mingles with the new. For people or things it is better so.

Girlhood models for the full stature of womanhood, even as the boy is father to the man. The spirit of love, truth, and purity, unselfishness and courage, must abide as attributes in the future woman, if she is to do her part toward maintaining America as God's country for the uplift of humanity. Thus more and more in years to come will woman bring to Life and Art a yet more spiritual meaning.