26 AUGUST 1876, Page 20


WE have before us two books of French etchings, the smaller of which is of purely artistic interest. The larger is a portfolio, containing letter-press and etchings, the history of the War of 1870. We may pass over the letter-press without comment, as the book does not depend for its chief interest on the subsequent narration of events by M. Veron, so much as on the contemporary notes taken by M. Lawn as an eye-witness. Pictorial repre- sentations of modern war have been either imaginative pieces for the glory of the conquering General, or else painful realisations of frightful scenes in which the horror constitutes the chief in- terest. The first of these may be dismissed as unreal his- tory, and no art at all ; but it is a serious question whether the second, decidedly popular at the present day, is or is not real art, whether, indeed, war as it is now carried on, is at all a suitable subject for pictures. We should say decidedly not, and for these reasons. The character- istics of war, by which it is distinguishable from sham-fight- ing (which, otherwise, has the same outward appearance, and outward appearance is all that painting can represent) and from games of strength and skill in which numbers are engaged, are death and horror. Now the raison d'être of Art is to be beauti- ful, and beauty as an object is incompatible with horror as an object. No excellence of workmanship can redeem an essentially horrible picture and make it a work of art. Clever painting and composition are not art. We doubt very much if an elaborate description of horror for its own sake is true art even in a book, which may be closed and forgotten. We do not deny that a small element of horror may be allowable, like a discord in music, to aid the general effect, which is, never- theless, primarily beautiful ; but no one would write a sonata of discords to produce an effect, why, then, have a permanent discord to the eye in sight on your walls? The Greeks knew better than this. War was an important element in human life, perhaps even more then than now, and they represented it ; but they did so by taking from it all except the sense of struggle of one will and body with another, faces calm in life as in death ; and there was no colour in the sculptured marble, and colour is one of the chief elements of horror in which some modern schools seem to delight. Since the invention of firearms, war has become less and less a matter of individuals, and more and more of machines and machine-like masses of men. A feeling of individual free-will is indispensable to the interest of a picture representing the struggle of man with man, which is hardly to be found in modern battle-fields, though it was the main element in Greek and medimval combats.

The great difference between the etchings under review and the usual imaginative illustrations to military history is, that they are sketches of this war in particular, not of war in general, and therefore there are fewer representations of actual fighting (which can rarely be seen and sketched) than of the preparations for, and the results of such fighting. M. A. Lancon is an adven- turous artist, who wished to see for himself if something better than conventional battle-pieces might not be made out of the great war in the midst of which he was living. Accordingly, he attached himself to the Ambulance of the Press, and followed its fortunes, with the Geneva Cross on his arm, and pencil and paper in hand, noting down all that came in his way, from soldiers cooking food to soldiers charging a battery, and back again to soldiers wounded in an ambulance ; not without danger, too, from bullets on the battle-field, and from exasperated and suspicious French soldiers, to whom "a chiel amang them taking notes" easily appeared like a spy, so that several times our artist was arrested, and all but shot. Having, however, triumphantly survived all dangers from friends and enemies, he • La 7'roisienle Invasion. Par M. Eoghne Vdron. Eel:ix-Fortes, par M. Augusta Lencon. Paris : Libreria de l'Art.

Baux-Fortes de Jules de Goncourt. Notice at Catalogue, par Philippe Burty. Paris: lAbrarie de l*Art. returned after the war was over to the scenes of his late adven- tures, and corrected the locale of the sketches, after which they were reproduced as the etchings now before us. As remarked above, they include all varieties of camp and field-life inci- dents. Amongst the best we may mention No. 2, the forti- fications of Metz, the foreground of which is an open space, covered with tents, horses, soldiers, and inhabitants, behind which are earthworks in course of construction, and a distance of buildings, trees, and low hills. The whole effect of this plate is light, except for a few points, such as the horses, the extreme blackness of which rather mars the unity of the whole. A different picture is the Place of Pont-a-Mousson, where, with houses on all sides, and under a dark rolling sky, the Prussian cavalry ride across the square, which is covered with bodies of in- fantry preparing to start. The tone and perspective of the houses are admirable ; and though dark and small, the masses of men are not at all confused. For a time, M. Lancon and his Ambulance were prisoners ; and one of the results is No. 25, a capital sketch of Prussians, sitting and standing, singing round a camp fire. In the centre on the ground sits a man with the music in one hand, and the other up- lifted to conduct his comrades, who are grouped round him. The expression of figures and of faces, given almost with dots on this small scale, and the concentration, yet breadth, of the effect of light and shade, are excellent. The best piece of active war, and perhaps the best thing in the book, is No. 56, the attack on the Ferme de la Sartelle, near Mouzon, by the French. The defenders are not seen, as the spectator is amongst them ; the high white wall crosses the picture at an angle ; in the foreground, a soldier falls forward from the top of the wall, shot in the act of coming over, and immediately below him lies his predecessor, head downwards, in a heap at the foot of the wall ; further behind are two dead, and one wounded, struggling to rise by the wheel of an abandoned cart. All along the top of the wall surge up the heads and shoulders of the storming party ; one, more forward, has one leg over the wall, others lean over eagerly, and some start back, daunted by the fall of those before them. The whole is sternly simple in drawing and composition, genuine and unexaggerated in feeling,,,interesting more on account of the real fighting energy and determined personal courage shown than for the sensation of the scene, which is also deprived of its worst horror from being in black and white. There are many sketches of ambulance groups and incidents, some of them actual doctoring, being more painful than desirable sights. One of the most effective as a drawing is the interior by night of the church of Mouzon, turned into a large ambulance, the floor covered with beds, amongst which doctors and nurses move under the mysterious gloom of the dimly lighted Gothic aisles. The effects of war on the country are shown in some powerful drawings of ruined houses, chiefly at Bazeilles, and a road encumbered with debris of carts, horses, and men in terrible disorder. Two tipsy Bavarians supporting each other make a clever comic group, without painful surroundings.

If the definition of etching as "short-hand drawing " is a cor- rect one, it is decidedly the most suitable medium for reproducing short-hand sketches made against time, whose object is truth of expression and effect. Indeed, the chief adverse criticism which we have to make on M. Lancon's etchings is that some of them are hardly, if we may be pardoned the expression, sufficiently "short-handed," rather too much worked up, blackened and be- wildered by a multitude of strokes. The skies especially are " muddled " with cross-shading and undulating lines, till one wished them simply blank. In some instances the sky is left light, with only slight indications of cloud, and we wish that M. Lancon had not deemed dark and furious effects necessary, when we see how delicately he can work. In heads and figures the character is often given in a few clever touches, and above all, everything has an air of reality about it, which makes you feel sure it is not got up for the occasion, but represented just as the artist saw it.

M. Jules de Goncourt's etchings take us into a very different field of art. As etchings they are probably superior to those of M. Lancon, being for the most part more direct and simple in line-shading. M. Jules de Goncourt was an educated young man, who travelled about the South of Europe, and visited Algiers with his brother Edmond, making sketches and notes of scenery and people in water-colour and black and white. The brothers then settled in Paris, where Jules united in his own person the literary man and critic with the artist and collector of objets d'art, the latter chiefly from the eighteenth century. He published books and articles, and exhibited etchings, of which this book contains a cata- logue, together with some twenty specimens The greater part of them seem to be "alter" his favourite eighteenth-century artists, though some are from drawings of his own and contemporary painters. The best in the book are three heads, about half life- size, from portraits by La Tour of Midas, Chardin, and La Tour himself ; an admirable sketch of a monkey with a mirror, and a clever caricature after a sketch by Gavarni These are all worked with light but decided strokes, and shaded as much as possible with parallel lines, shadows indicated rather than insisted on, and the whole effect light and broad. Even in some dark studies, such as a silver cup and some fruit, the lines are very little confused with cross-shading. M. de Goncourt died in 1870, at the early age of forty, and M. Philippe Burty has written an enthusiastic memoir of him, whom he calls "ce jeune et courageux travailleur, ce brave cur, ce brillant artist."