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tant public buildings designed for the uses of the people. In considering this particular people's palace, all who love art must ever remember that it was in this building, as has already been here stated, that William M. Hunt, the great painter, set to the American artists and builders of our time the striking lesson of noble art decoration so fortunately followed in the great public library buildings just completed. In the zeal of this new awakening on the part of American architects and their employers to a practical recognition of the value of art in the decoration of the interior wall surfaces of public buildings—the most recent examples of which I have instanced—it should not be forgotten that, decades before these later buildings were planned, those who had charge of the construction of the grand building of the nation's capitol at Washington had freely availed themselves of the works of the American painters of their day, beginning as early as 1837, to illustrate memorable and pivotal events in the history of the republic; so that, on entering the grand rotunda, the visitors found themselves encircled by a series of large historical paintings, of a size in harmony with the colossal proportions of the encircling walls which supported the upspringing arches of the crowning dome; while in the dome itself, in a blaze of allegory, dear to the heart of Italy, was given the Italian artist's conception of the great powers essential to the prosperity of a people, and, though diplomatically disguised in appellation, a glimpse of the crowning triumph of the nation in its latest terrible struggle for existence. From the landing of Columbus to the coming of Lincoln, he who runs may read; in the paintings, the bas-reliefs and the encircling frieze, “ in tempera"—(though little can be said in praise of the artistic excellence of the relievos and the frieze)—the dramatic events of the centuries which have resulted in giving to the world the republic of these United States of America. Our legislators called not only on the painters, but also summoned the sculptors, to the adornment of this, the chief building of their country, and gradually important works by Greenough, Powers, Crawford and Rogers were secured. In addition to these works by native artists, the services of Italian artists, as decorators, were largely availed of in the halls, galleries and committee rooms of the building; while in the wings, occupied, respectively, by the legislative chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate, later American artists have added many fine works illustrating the history, or the scenery, of the country.
It has been a fashion with many writers, posing as art critics, to speak contemptuously of the historical paintings in the rotunda. However true their criticism may have been, if comparison of these paintings with the chef d'aeuvres of the world's great artists — Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Velasquez, Rubens, and other great art masters in historical painting, either in their conception of the subject or mastery of technique, are concerned; it should not be forgotten, in endeavoring to estimate the value of this art work to the country, that, a half century or more ago, few American citizens who entered that building had ever before had the opportunity to look upon a fine work of art of any kind. It followed, therefore, that the sight of that grand rotunda, with its uplifting dome, its great paintings, was an event never to be forgotten; and the grandeur and inspiration of the scene gave to many their first realization of the meaning, the power, and the possibilities of art.
There have been American artists, before and since these works were painted, who justly rank as artists far in advance of Trumbull (though few have left works which can surpass in brilliancy his small, jewel-like originals of these large paintings, long the pride of the Yale college art gallery), Weir, Chapman, Vanderlyn, and Powell, the painters of the works in the rotunda; but it may well be questioned whether, before 1870, any other American artists have given to so many of their fellow countrymen their first appreciation of something of the glory of art |
A debt of gratitude is due to the legislators who authorized and the artists who executed these works. Nor, taken as a whole, are the art adornments of this, the noblest legislative building in the world, inferior to those of similar modern public buildings in European countries. Art in the early part of the nineteenth century, so far as shown in statuary on the exterior of buildings, was in nowise generally superior to the grandiose sculptures by Persico, which stand in the east portico of the rotunda; while the group by Greenough is far superior to the ordinary statuary of that day. Nor, in painting, was Trumbull so greatly inferior to his master, West In fact, the era of the reign of the fourth George of England, and his immediate successor, was, nowhere in Europe, memorable as illustrating the highest ideals of art. Early in this century America had, in Allston and Stuart, art masters equal to their contemporaries of any other nations. In view of this long-continued example of the possibilities of the artistic use of interior wall surfaces, as shown by the pictorial illustrations in the rotunda, of the history of the country, by well-known artists; and, also, by decorative paintings on minor wall spaces, which adorn the interiors of the nation's capitol building; the fact of the almost entire absence throughout this period of similar wall paintings and decorations in other civic public buildings in the land, as well as in churches, and private dwellings, so that the paintings by Hunt, in the state house, at Albany, can be accurately designated as marking the definite beginning of the present era of the general artistic interior decoration of buildings, civic and religious, public and private;—furnishes a convincing proof of the utter lack, on the part of the American people as a whole, of any general knowledge and appreciation of the value of art in its application to the buildings, and the furnishings, of life, prior to the holding of the Centennial exposition, in Philadelphia, in 1876. It may well be urged that, up to that time, this busy people were too fully occupied in completing the physical conquest of a vast territory, in subduing forests, bridging streams and opening virgin prairies to cultivation; in providing for the transportation, housing, and feeding of the ever-surging incoming tides of eager emigrants; were in short too busy in their imperative task of making history; to find time, or thought, for its artistic record ' When, at last, they found time to pause and study the lessons of that Centennial, they proved apt students; as the Columbian exposition has shown | Yet notwithstanding this later surprising and artistic evolution of the American people, so widespread and rapid has been the development of technical training in its application to industrial and fine art manufactures throughout the leading countries of the continent of Europe, and also, though begun later, in Great Britain, that, although the development in elementary artistic training and its facilities for the acquisitition of advanced instruction in these arts, in the United States, has been wonderfully increased since the beginning in Boston, in 1870, of the movement for school instruction in drawing, and the holding of the Centennial exposition in Philadelphia, in 1876; still, in the opportunities offered for the training of skilled youthful workers in the industries of applied art, the United States, to-day, in view of the persistent efforts and great advances made during the past twenty years, by European countries, in providing such educational facilities—are relatively, hardly in any better position to contest successfully with the products of the trained workers of Europe, than they were in 1870. Nevertheless the efforts made in this country by leading educators, and by liberal patrons of artistic and technical education, have been notable, and most worthy of honor; while the great advance since the Centennial, as shown in the art qualities of American manufactures, in jewelry, in glass, in art fabrics in silk, in woolen and in cotton, as well as in architecture, and in all material pertaining to the decorative arts, has been simply marvellous. So far, also, as affording requisite opportunities for acquiring thorough training in the fine arts of painting, sculpture and architecture, the few art schools in the United States compare most favorably with those of the older countries; so that it is no longer essential — though it may often be, for other reasons, desirable — for the ambitious young painter, sculptor or architect, to exile himself in order to obtain needed opportunities for instruction in those several arts. Nor are our leading technical schools of science inferior in equipment or in quality of instruction to the similar schools in Europe. These schools in the United States are, however, so few in number, in proportion to our increasing population as compared to the number and variety of those offered to the citizens of the leading art industrial European countries of Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and France— not to mention Great Britain, Austria, Italy and Russia — that the inadequacy in numbers of our schools for training the captains of industry, not to mention those merely technical trade schools designed for creating a force of trained workers, impresses itself painfully upon the investigator in these fields. With the increasing knowledge of the forces of nature acquired by the patient investigations continually carried on by scientists of every class, in chemistry, in geology, in natural philosophy, in mining, both in the methods of mechanical operations and in the reduction of ores; in short, in the general application of the discoveries of science throughout the various realms of nature, to the needs of man, which so constantly revolutionize former methods and create ever new demands; for example, in the endeavor to secure the economic production of electricity and to contrive the best methods for its application to human uses, not to speak of the similar needs in other fields, the demand on the community for the founding of institutions for giving thorough training in these latest discoveries of science is imperative. In all these ever-recurring demands for the invention and application of methods by which to make these discoveries of science available in the industries of life, a knowledge of,