Pierre Grassou Page 01
HONORE DE BALZAC
Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To the Lieutenant-Colonel of Artillery, Periollas,
As a Testimony of the Affectionate Esteem of the Author,
Whenever you have gone to take a serious look at the exhibition of works of sculpture and painting, such as it has been since the revolution of 1830, have you not been seized by a sense of uneasiness, weariness, sadness, at the sight of those long and over-crowded galleries? Since 1830, the true Salon no longer exists. The Louvre has again been taken by assault,--this time by a populace of artists who have maintained themselves in it.
In other days, when the Salon presented only the choicest works of art, it conferred the highest honor on the creations there exhibited. Among the two hundred selected paintings, the public could still choose: a crown was awarded to the masterpiece by hands unseen. Eager, impassioned discussions arose about some picture. The abuse showered on Delacroix, on Ingres, contributed no less to their fame than the praises and fanaticism of their adherents. To-day, neither the crowd nor the criticism grows impassioned about the products of that bazaar. Forced to make the selection for itself, which in former days the examining jury made for it, the attention of the public is soon wearied and the exhibition closes. Before the year 1817 the pictures admitted never went beyond the first two columns of the long gallery of the old masters; but in that year, to the great astonishment of the public, they filled the whole space. Historical, high-art, genre paintings, easel pictures, landscapes, flowers, animals, and water- colors,--these eight specialties could surely not offer more than twenty pictures in one year worthy of the eyes of the public, which, indeed, cannot give its attention to a greater number of such works. The more the number of artists increases, the more careful and exacting the jury of admission ought to be.
The true character of the Salon was lost as soon as it spread along the galleries. The Salon should have remained within fixed limits of inflexible proportions, where each distinct specialty could show its masterpieces only. An experience of ten years has shown the excellence of the former institution. Now, instead of a tournament, we have a mob; instead of a noble exhibition, we have a tumultuous bazaar; instead of a choice selection we have a chaotic mass. What is the result? A great artist is swamped. Decamps' "Turkish Cafe," "Children at a Fountain," "Joseph," and "The Torture," would have redounded far more to his credit if the four pictures had been exhibited in the great Salon with the hundred good pictures of that year, than his twenty pictures could, among three thousand others, jumbled together in six galleries.
By some strange contradiction, ever since the doors are open to every one there has been much talk of unknown and unrecognized genius. When, twelve years earlier, Ingres' "Courtesan," and that of Sigalon, the "Medusa" of Gericault, the "Massacre of Scio" by Delacroix, the "Baptism of Henri IV." by Eugene Deveria, admitted by celebrated artists accused of jealousy, showed the world, in spite of the denials of criticism, that young and vigorous palettes existed, no such complaint was made. Now, when the veriest dauber of canvas can send in his work, the whole talk is of genius neglected! Where judgment no longer exists, there is no longer anything judged. But whatever artists may be doing now, they will come back in time to the examination and selection which presents their works to the admiration of the crowd for whom they work. Without selection by the Academy there will be no Salon, and without the Salon art may perish.
Ever since the catalogue has grown into a book, many names have appeared in it which still remain in their native obscurity, in spite of the ten or a dozen pictures attached to them. Among these names perhaps the most unknown to fame is that of an artist named Pierre Grassou, coming from Fougeres, and called simply "Fougeres" among his brother-artists, who, at the present moment holds a place, as the saying is, "in the sun," and who suggested the rather bitter reflections by which this sketch of his life is introduced,-- reflections that are applicable to many other individuals of the tribe of artists.
In 1832, Fougeres lived in the rue de Navarin, on the fourth floor of one of those tall, narrow houses which resemble the obelisk of Luxor, and possess an alley, a dark little stairway with dangerous turnings, three windows only on each floor, and, within the building, a courtyard, or, to speak more correctly, a square pit or well. Above the three or four rooms occupied by Grassou of Fougeres was his studio, looking over to Montmartre. This studio was painted in brick- color, for a background; the floor was tinted brown and well frotted; each chair was furnished with a bit of carpet bound round the edges; the sofa, simple enough, was clean as that in the bedroom of some worthy bourgeoise.