they are amid their own proper surroundings, in the field, garden, meadow, and woodland ; clothing the hills, and filling the valleys with verdure ; were never intended, and are absolutely unfitted, for the performance of the thousand-and-one duties associated with the furnishings of the modern home. Primitive man might be, indeed had to be, content with the service of a tree-stump for a table, a log for a seat, the shells of nuts or rinds of fruit for his cooking and feeding utensils, and Mother Earth for his couch ; but we are primitive man no longer. With every generation since Eve rejoiced over the advent of her firstborn, fresh needs, or supposed needs, have arisen or have been created. From the very first moment when man, as a “ thinking animal,” discovered that he was endowed with the inventive faculty, it has been his desire and endeavour to satisfy those needs, finding, as he has always done, that Nature makes but scant provision for them on her own account, preferring to leave the supply to the ingenuity of her children. It must be recognised that an overwhelming preponderance of those needs has been simply an accompaniment of advances in civilisation by which they have been created; they were never experienced, nor dreamed of, by man in his original and natural state; they are essentially artificial, and must, therefore, be provided forbyartificial means. Nature supplied furnishings for the cave-dwellings of pre-historic periods—though even they had to be cut and hewn by mortal beings, and fulfilled fairly well the modest requirements of those days ; but if she were looked to nowadays to fit out even the humblest cottage in the least pretentious manner imaginable, her resources would indeed be found sadly at fault. No. She provides the materials with a free and generous hand ; the power to fashion them to our will is ours to a very great degree, and we are left to do with them the best that we are able. Nature will do many things, but design or provide our furniture ready-made for us she will
not ; neither need we look to her for models that will serve as object-lessons to show us how that task is to be accomplished, unless we are content to return to primeval ways of living, and to sacrifice many of the actual necessaries and nearly all the luxuries of modern life. Those who are prepared to do this are, of course, absolutely at liberty to do so, if they can find a place sufficiently far removed from civilisation to permit of it ; and no one will say them u nay.” Let them, by all means, if such be their inclination, look to Nature for instruction in the art of furniture designing, and return actually to first principles ; but they must not expect every one else to share their tastes and opinions.
It was through losing sight altogether of this aspect of affairs, either through absence of mind, or by reason of a fixed determination to ignore it, that the "New Artists” committed one of their most fatal mistakes, and one which led to the production of monstrosities in the way of furniture at the sight of which we are almost inclined to gasp with astonishment not unmixed with dismay. It would really seem as if some of them argued in the following strain: “ The gnarled stump of a tree, with a board placed across the top, acts very satisfactorily as a table ; a log makes a serviceable and safe, if somewhat uncomfortable, seat; we can hang our hats and coats very well upon the lopped and broken boughs and twigs of a young sapling: let us, therefore, reproduce the tree-trunk, with its gnarled and ugly roots ; the log, with its knots and rough bark ; and the sapling, with its multitudinous young shoots, as accurately as we can, and place them in our entrance-hall and dining-room at home—furniture fresh from the very Fountain-Head of all Art and Beauty—surely we cannot go wrong if we do this.”
It may possibly be urged by some reader that, in the foregoing paragraph, I have permitted my imagination, warped by some deep-rooted and unreasonable prejudice
against the “New Art,” to run riot. To any such indictment, were it brought against me, I would most emphatically plead “ not guilty.” In the first place, the idea of the
Two Examples of Restrained “New Art” and a Naturalesque “Tree-Trunk” Table (French)
reproduction of the tree trunk, log, and sapling, extreme and utterly absurd as it may seem, is not my own ; neither is it introduced as an imaginary possibility. Those articles,
as I have described them, were positively shown in all seriousness at the last Paris Exhibition by two of the leading exponents and pioneers of the “New Art,” not as garden furniture, but as designed, and made of the choicest woods, and at enormous cost, for the homes of wealthy patrons. In the second place, if accused of being prejudiced against the movement itself, even in the most infinitesimal degree, my defence would simply be to affirm, if possible with still greater emphasis than before, that the “New Art” in some of its phases has no keener or more enthusiastic admirer than the writer of these lines.
I should not have laid such great stress upon this great failing of the movement had it been revealed occasionally only, and in momentary lapses from “ sweet reasonableness,” constituting but a rare exception to a predominating good taste; but it cannot, unfortunately, be regarded in that light. On the contrary, this failing stood out prominently as one of the leading characteristics of the style at its inception, and though, in the course of time, radical changes for the better have taken place, the same weakness remains, though in a far smaller degree.
This contempt, whether intentional or not, of the sense of fitness and of the limitations of material, was everywhere apparent in the early days of the movement ; even at the present time, though vast strides have been made in the proper direction, it is still more or less in evidence, but, fortunately, in a vastly modified form. The constant endeavour to press certain materials into service for the execution of tasks for which they were never intended, and are obviously unfitted, still remains ; and that endeavour is inspired and directed by such rare determination—or obstinacy, as some might describe it—that technical impossibilities are almost achieved. Many artists of the new school continue to produce designs with the fixed intention that they shall be carried out in certain stated materials, irrespective
Reference in Text. See pages 305, 306