MUSEUMS

I DID not go yachting in Holland in order to visit museums;
nevertheless, I saw a few. When it is possible to step off a yacht clean
into a museum, and heavy rain is falling, the temptation to remain on
board is not sufficiently powerful to keep you out of the museum. At
Dordrecht there is a municipal museum manned by four officials.
They received us with hope, with enthusiasm, with the most touching
gratitude. Their interest in us was pathetic. They were all dying of
ennui in those large rooms, where the infection hung in clouds almost
visible, and we were a specific stimulant. They seized on us as the
morphinomaniac seizes on an unexpected find of the drug.

[Illustration: 0106]

Just as Haarlem is the city of Frans Hals, so Dordrecht is the city of
Ary Scheffer. Posterity in the end is a good judge of painters, if not
of heroes, but posterity makes mistakes sometimes, and Ary Scheffer
is one of its more glaring mistakes. (Josef Israels seems likely to
be another.) And posterity is very slow in acknowledging an error. The
Dordrecht museum is waiting for such an acknowledgment. When that
comes, the museum will be burned down, or turned into a brewery, and
the officials will be delivered from their dreadful daily martyrdom of
feigning ecstatic admiration for Ary Scheffer. Only at Dordrecht is it
possible to comprehend the full baseness, the exquisite unimportance,
of Scheffer’s talent. The best thing of his in a museum full of him is
a free, brilliant copy of a head by Rembrandt done at the age of eleven.
It was, I imagine, his last tolerable work. His worst pictures, solemnly
hung here, would be justifiably laughed at in a girls’ schoolroom. But
his sentimentality, conventionality, and ugliness arouse less laughter
than nausea. By chance a few fine pictures have come into the Dordrecht
museum, as into most museums. Jakob Maris and Bosboom are refreshing,
but even their strong influence cannot disinfect the place nor keep
the officials alive. We left the museum in the nick of time, and saw no
other visitors.

Now, the tea-shop into which we next went was far more interesting and
esthetically valuable than the museum. The skipper, who knew every shop,
buoy, bridge, and shoal in Holland, had indicated this shop to me as a
high-class shop for costly teas. It was. I wanted the best tea, and
here I got it. The establishment might have survived from the age
when Dordrecht was the wealthiest city in Holland. Probably it had so
survived. It was full of beautiful utensils in practical daily use.
It had an architectural air, and was aware of its own dignity. The
head-salesman managed to convey to me that the best tea–that was,
tea that a connoisseur would call _tea_–cost two and a half florins a
pound. I conveyed to him that I would take two pounds of the same. The
head-salesman then displayed to me the tea in its japanned receptacle.
He next stood upright and expectant, whereupon an acolyte, in a lovely
white apron, silently appeared from the Jan-Steen shadows at the back of
the shop, and with solemn gestures held a tun-dish over a paper bag for
his superior to pour tea into. Having performed his share in the rite,
he disappeared. The parcel was slowly made up, every part of the process
being evidently a matter of secular tradition. I tendered a forty-gulden
note. Whereon the merchant himself arrived in majesty at the counter
from his office, and offered the change with punctilio. He would have
been perfect, but for a hole in the elbow of his black alpaca coat. I
regretted this hole. We left the shop stimulated, and were glad to admit
that Dordrecht had atoned to us for its museum. Ary Scheffer might have
made an excellent tea-dealer.

The museum at Dordrecht only showed in excess an aspect of displayed art
which is in some degree common to all museums. For there is no museum
which is not a place of desolation. Indeed, I remember to have seen only
one collection of pictures, public or private, in which every item was
a cause of joy–that of Mr. Widener, near Philadelphia. Perhaps the
most wonderful thing in the tourist’s Holland is the fact that the small
museum at Haarlem, with its prodigious renown, does not disappoint. You
enter it with disturbing preliminaries, each visitor having to ring a
bell, and the _locus_ is antipathetic; but one’s pulse is immediately
quickened by the verve of those headstrong masterpieces of Hals. And
Ruysdael and Jan Steen are influential here, and even the mediocre
paintings have often an interest of perversity, as to which naturally
the guide-books say naught.

The Teyler Museum at Haarlem also has a few intoxicating works, mixed up
with a sinister assortment of mechanical models. And its aged attendant,
who watched over his finger-nails as over adored children, had acquired
the proper attitude, at once sardonic and benevolent, for a museum
of the kind. He was peculiarly in charge of very fine sketches by
Rembrandt, of which he managed to exaggerate the value.

Few national museums of art contain a higher percentage of masterpieces
than the Mauritshuis at The Hague. And one’s first sight of Rembrandt’s
“Lesson in Anatomy” therein would constitute a dramatic event in any
yachting cruise. But my impression of the Mauritshuis was a melancholy
one, owing to the hazard of my visit being on the great public holiday
of the year, when it was filled with a simple populace, who stared
coarsely around, and understood nothing–nothing. True, they gazed in a
hypnotized semicircle at “The Lesson in Anatomy,” and I can hear amiable
persons saying that the greatest art will conquer even the ignorant
and the simple. I don’t believe it. I believe that if “The Lesson
in Anatomy” had been painted by Carolus-Duran, in the manner of
Carolus-Duran, the ignorant and the simple would have been hypnotized
just the same. And I have known the ignorant and the simple to be
overwhelmed with emotion by spurious trickery of the most absurd and
offensive kind.

An hour or two in a public museum on a national holiday is a tragic
experience, because it forces you to realize that in an artistic
sense the majority and backbone of the world have not yet begun to be
artistically civilized. Ages must elapse before such civilization can
make any appreciable headway. And in the meantime the little hierarchy
of art, by which alone art lives and develops, exists precariously in
the midst of a vast, dangerous population–a few adventurous whites
among indigenous hordes in a painful climate. The indigenous hordes may
have splendid qualities, but they have not that one quality which
more than any other vivifies. They are jockeyed into paying for the
manifestations of art which they cannot enjoy, and this detail is not
very agreeable either. A string of fishermen, in their best blue cloth,
came into the Mauritshuis out of the rain, and mildly and politely
scorned it. Their attitude was unmistakable. They were not intimidated.
Well, I like that. I preferred that, for example, to the cant of ten
thousand tourists.

Nor was I uplifted by a visit to the Mesdag Museum at The Hague. Mesdag
was a second-rate painter with a first-rate reputation, and his taste,
as illustrated here, was unworthy of him, even allowing for the fact
that many of the pictures were forced upon him as gifts. One or two
superb works–a Delacroix, a Dupre, a Rousseau–could not make up for
the prevalence of Mesdag, Josef Israels, etc. And yet the place was full
of good names. I departed from the museum in a hurry, and, having
time to spare, drove to Scheveningen in search of joy. Scheveningen is
famous, and is supposed to rival Ostend. It is washed by the same sea,
but it does not rival Ostend. It is a yellow and a gloomy spot, with a
sky full of kites. Dutchmen ought not to try to rival Ostend. As I left
Scheveningen, my secret melancholy was profoundly established within me,
and in that there is something final and splendid. Melancholy when it
becomes uncompromisingly sardonic, is as bracing as a bath.

[Illustration: 0112]

The remarkable thing about the two art museums at Amsterdam, a town
of fine architecture, is that they should both–the Ryks and the
municipal–be housed in such ugly, imposing buildings. Now, as in the
age of Michelangelo, the best architects seldom get the best jobs,
and the result is the permanent disfigurement of beautiful cities.
Michelangelo often had to sit glum and idle while mediocre architects
and artists more skilled than he in pleasing city councils and
building-committees muddled away opportunities which he would have
glorified; but he did obtain part of a job now and then, subject to it
being “improved” by some duffer like Bernini, who of course contrived to
leave a large fortune, whereas if Michelangelo had lived to-day he might
never have got any job at all.

Incontestably, the exterior, together with much of the interior, of the
Ryks depresses. Moreover, the showpiece of the museum, “The Night-Watch”
of Rembrandt, is displayed with a too particular self-consciousness on
the part of the curator, as though the functionary were saying to you:
“Hats off! Speak low! You are in church, and Rembrandt is the god.”
The truth is that “The Night-Watch” is neither very lovable nor very
beautiful. It is an exhibition-picture, meant to hit the wondering
centuries in the eye, and it does so. But how long it will continue to
do so is a nice question.

Give me the modern side of the Ryks, where there is always plenty of
room, despite its sickly Josef Israels. The modern side reëndowed me
with youth. It is an unequal collection, and comprises some dreadful
mistakes, but at any rate it is being made under the guidance of
somebody who is not afraid of his epoch or of being in the wrong. Faced
with such a collection, one realizes the shortcomings of London museums
and the horror of that steely English official conservatism, at once
timid and ruthless, which will never permit itself to discover a foreign
artist until the rest of the world has begun to forget him. At the Ryks
there are Van Goghs and Cézannes and Bonnards. They are not the best,
but they are there. Also there are some of the most superb water-colors
of the age, and good things by a dozen classic moderns who are still
totally unrepresented in London. I looked at a celestial picture of
women–the kind of thing that Guys would have done if he could–painted
perhaps fifty years ago, and as modern as the latest Sargent
water-color. It was boldly signed T. C. T. C.? T. C.? Who on earth could
T. C. he? I summoned an attendant. Thomas Couture, of course! A great
artist! He will appear in the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, about
the middle of the twenty-first century.

Then there was Daumier’s “Christ and His Disciples,” a picture that I
would have stolen had it been possible and quite safe to do so. It might
seen incredible that any artist of the nineteenth century should take
the subject from the great artists of the past, and treat it so as to
make you think that it had never been treated before. But Daumier did
this. It is true that he was a very great artist indeed. Who that has
seen it and understood its tender sarcasm can forget that group of
the exalted, mystical Christ talking to semi-incredulous, unperceptive
disciples in the gloomy and vague evening landscape? I went back to the
yacht and its ignoble and decrepit engine, full of the conviction that
art still lives. And I thought of Wilson Steer’s “The Music-Room” in
the Tate Gallery, London, which magnificent picture is a proof that in
London also art still lives.