ARISTOCRACY AND ART

THE harbor-master would not allow us to remain for more than three
days in our original berth, which served us very well as a sort of grand
stand for viewing the life of Copenhagen. His theory was that we were
in the way of honest laboring folk, and that we ought to be up in the
“sound,” on the northeastern edge of the city, where the yachts lie. We
contested his theory, but we went, because it is unwise to quarrel with
a bureaucracy of whose language you are ignorant.

The sound did not suit us. The anchorage was opposite a coaling station,
and also opposite a shipbuilding yard, and from the west came a strong
odor out of a manufactory of something unpleasant. We could have
tolerated the dust, the noise, and the smell, but what we could not
tolerate was the heavy rolling, for the north wind was blowing and the
anchorage exposed to it. Indeed, the Royal Danish Yacht Club might
have chosen more comfortable quarters for itself. We therefore
unostentatiously weighed anchor again, and reëntered the town, and hid
ourselves among many businesslike tugs in a little creek called the New
Haven, whose extremity was conveniently close to the Café d’Angleterre.
We hoped that the prowling harbor-master would not catch sight of us,
and he did not.

[Illustration: 0204]

The aristocratic and governing quarter of the town lay about us,
including the Bregade, a street full of antiquaries, marble churches,
and baroque houses, and the Amalienborg Palace, which is really four
separate similar palaces (in an octagonal _place_) thrown into one. Here
all the prospects and vistas were dignified, magnificent, and proudly
exclusive. The eighteenth century had nobly survived, when the populace
was honestly regarded as a horde created by divine providence in order
that the ruling classes might practise upon it the art of ruling. There
was no Tivoli when those beautiful pavements were made, and as you stand
on those pavements and gaze around at the royal grandiosity, speckless
and complete, you can almost imagine that even the French Revolution has
not yet occurred. The tiny, colored sentry at the vast, gray gates is
still living in the eighteenth century. The architecture is not very
distinguished, but it has style. It shames the ——– Hotel. The
Frederiks Church, whose copper dome overtops the other copper domes, is
a fair example of the quarter. Without being in the least a masterpiece,
it imposes by its sincerity and its sense of its own importance. And the
interior is kept as scrupulously as a boudoir. The impeccability of the
marble flooring is wondrous, and each of the crimson cushions in the
polished pews is like a lady’s pillow. Nothing rude can invade this
marmoreal fane.

The Rosenborg Palace, not far off, is open to the public, so that all
may judge what was the life of sovereigns in a small country, and what
probably still is. The royal villas outside Florence are very ugly, but
there is a light grace about their furnishing which lifts them far above
the heavy, stuffy, tasteless mediocrity of such homes as the Rosenborg.
Badly planned, dark, unhygienic, crammed with the miscellaneous ugliness
of generations of royal buying, the Rosenborg is rather a sad sight to
people of taste; and the few very lovely tilings that have slipped in
here and there by inadvertence only intensify its mournfulness. The
phantoms of stupid courtiers seem to pervade, strictly according to
etiquette, its gloomy salons. And yet occasionally, in the disposition
of an arm-chair or a screen, one realizes that it must, after all, have
been a home, inhabited by human beings worthy of sympathy. It is the
most bourgeois home I ever entered. In a glass case, with certain
uniforms, were hung the modern overcoat (a little frayed) and the hat
of a late monarch. They touched the heart of the sardonic visitor, their
exposure was so naive.

Even more depressing than this mausoleum of nineteenth-century maimers
was the museum of art. As a colossal negation of art, this institution
ranks with the museum of Lausanne. It is an enormous and ugly building,
full of enormous ugliness in painting and sculpture. It contained a fine
Rembrandt–“Christ at Emmaus”–and one good modern picture, a plowing
scene by Wilhelmson. We carefully searched the immense rooms for another
good modern picture, and found it not. Even the specimens of Gauguin,
Van Gogh, and Bonnard were mediocre.

The sculpture was simply indescribable. The eye roamed like a bird
over the waters of the deluge, and saw absolutely nothing upon which
to alight with safety. Utter desolation reigned. The directors of this
museum had never, save in the case of Wilhelmson, been guilty of an
inadvertence. Their instinct against beauty in any form was unerring.
Imagine the stony desert of rooms and corridors and giant staircases
on a wet Sunday morning, echoing to the footsteps of the simple holiday
crowd engaged patriotically in the admiration of Danish art; imagine
ingenuous, mackintoshed figures against the vast flanks of stiff and
terrific marble Venuses and other gods; imagine the whispering in front
of anecdotes in paint; imagine the Inferno of an artist–and you have
the art museum, the abode and lurking-place of everlasting tedium.

Quite different is the Glyptothek, a museum whose existence is due
to private enterprise and munificence. It is housed in an ugly and
ill-planned building, but the contents are beautiful, very well
arranged, and admirably exposed. The Glyptothek has an entrancing
small picture by Tiepolo, of Antony and Cleopatra meeting, which I was
informed must be a study for a larger picture in Venice It alone should
raise the museum to a shrine of pilgrimage, and it is not even mentioned
in Baedeker! But the Glyptothek triumphs chiefly by its sculpture. Apart
from its classical side, it has a superb collection of Meuniers, which
impressed, without greatly pleasing, me; a roomful of Rodin busts which
are so honest and lifelike and jolly that when you look at them you want
to laugh–you must laugh from joy. And the Carpeaux busts of beautiful
women–what a profound and tranquil satisfaction n gazing at them!

[Illustration: 0209]

Some of the rooms at the Glyptothek are magical in their effect on
the sensibility. They would make you forget wife and children, yachts,
income tax, and even the Monroe Doctrine. Living Danish women were
apposite enough to wander about the sculpture rooms for our delectation,
making delicious contrasts against the background of marble groups.