|Catalogue of the Exhibition of pictures, watercolour drawings & etchings of Alphonse Legros (1897) (detail of the title-page)|
In 1859, M. Legros painted "L'ex Voto" and "L'Angélus." In the waning of subsequent years and of many fashions in art, we find his work, with added powers of realization and control, characterized to-day by the same dignity of outlook that made it remarkable thirty-eight years ago. To men who, like Baudelaire, were the first to hail experiments in painting that have since distinguished schools, the work of Legros appealed with a definitive aspect of reticent mastery, at that time rare in art. To-day, in the Babel of methods and aims his pictures remain as a survival from a finer epoch. As is the case with most enduring work, their force has long been felt; but from habit their appeal to old admirers would seem to have slackened with the approach of the first grey hairs and the falling away of some cultured illusions. The appreciation of his work, like the qualities that work embodies, would seem to belong to an epoch of greater enthusiasm and refinement, such as we find incarnated in those collections, now, unfortunately, for the most part dispersed, in which were to be found pictures by Rossetti, Watts, Burne-Jones and Whistler - collections that cannot be formed again. So much for the conditions under which M. Legros's public appearances have become more and more rare, till the fortunate coincidence of this small, but representative, show at Mr. Van Wisselingh's with the purchase of an important picture for the nation has at last given us an opportunity of seeing some of his work in its many phases.
|Catalogue of the Exhibition of pictures, watercolour drawings & etchings of Alphonse Legros (1897) (detail of title-page, note the raised space between '14' and 'Brook Street')|
|Alphonse Legros, 'Cardinal Manning' (photograph by George P. Landow)|
Some drawings of a Progress of Death are at once spontaneous in handling and also in conception. Death forgets his nature (or, perhaps, remembers it) in love, and with youth - Death becomes an enchanter in the music of church service. Here we would instance one marvellously tender drawing, a musician playing to a crowd, that in its admirable rendering of poise and gesture, and in some kindred undercurrent of thought, would seem to belong to this set of Death and the passing of things.
If, glancing round the walls, one is tempted to define the peculiar excellence of the work shown here, an essential quality forces itself upon our attention that makes a difference between the incalculably rich in art and the very poor - the difference between Puvis and Burne-Jones on the one hand and workers with loud recent reputations on the other. That quality is design - design underlying the initial impulse. These designs were remarkable, worth the doing, before they were actually carried out, and the gifts of a rare temperament have been controlled to retain and enhance them. Mr. R.A.M. Stevenson, in his sympathetic note to the Catalogue, quotes le père Corot in support of those powers of memory, that independence of models which separates the master from the workman. This should be insisted upon, for in showing this independence M. Legros has only followed what has been the almost universal practice of artists from Giotto to Tiepolo.
A Burgundian by birth, M. Legros adds to a study of great students in art, such as Raphael, Mantegna, and Poussin, that native raciness of observation found in the realistic sculptors of Burgundy and the mediaeval painter Foucquet. In Burgundy the Roman brick is still turned up in the hoeing of the old vine soil, and, like that of his compatriot, M. Puvis de Chavannes, the work of M. Legros is tinged with an element of breeding, an element of antique taste, the heritage of a race that was civilized more than a thousand years ago. With much that is excellent in French art he combines the faculties of the sculptor, and so we find here medals that would have charmed Matteo da Pasti, and a torso that might have been found at Arles, Nîmes, or Vaucluse. We are told that sculpture can no longer find room in our spaceless houses, yet these medals that might go down to our children as evidences of our own refinement may be held in the hollow of a hand, the frail torso could be niched anywhere.
A contemporary of Manet, Faintin, and Degas, owing to a great precocity his début as an artist belongs to the year in which Millet exhibited "Les Glâneuses" and Courbet began to attract attention. Though in the course of years, like Puvis de Chavannes, he might have achieved a tardy reputation in France, it is in England that he has chosen to remain, and it is here that he won the friendship and admiration of such men as Watts and Rossetti.
Charles Ricketts, 'Legros', in: The Saturday review, 17 April 1897, p. 406-407 [review of an exhibition at the Dutch Gallery, London, April-May 1897].
|Catalogue of the Exhibition of pictures, watercolour drawings & etchings of Alphonse Legros (1897) (page xiii)|