palette and brush through the medium of marquetry. It is not for me to enlarge here upon the possibilities and limitations of inlay as a means of decoration, but I may point out that, broadly speaking, it was never devised, nor intended, for the interpretation of schemes in which minute detail predominates, nor for the rendering of complicated harmonies of colouring; it is altogether beyond human ingenuity to employ it with complete success under such conditions. The “New Art ” designers, however, do not seem to pay any heed to this. There is scarcely a natural form or effect, from the tiniest piece of down on the breast of a bird, to a gorgeous sunset; from a blade of grass to the “ human face divine " ; which they will not attempt to reproduce in marquetry. Instead of adopting the only proper course, and making their ideas conform to the obvious conditions of the materials in which they are to be carried out, they attempt to force those conditions to conform to their ideas. Is it necessary for me to say that to do so is utterly and absolutely indefensible? Many other instances besides marquetry might be quoted in support of my contention ; but let us change our vein.
In performing the duties of a critic, nothing, I think, is more refreshing than to be able to turn from condemnation to praise—except, of course, there be something constitutionally awry with the critic. Having pointed out what in my humble opinion is the fundamental weakness of the “New Art,” it is with sincere pleasure that I proceed to deal with its strength. Curiously enough, both that weakness and strength spring from practically the same source—the admiration of Nature, and the application of her lessons to the requirements of the furniture designer. But nearly all knowledge, however good it may be, and however desirable its acquisition in the first place, is capable of misapplication ; and there are many most powerful forces which may be employed for evil as well as for good. As we have passed in review the artistic evil that has been wrought through
the slavish copying of Nature by this new school of French designers, let us now take a good look at the other side of the shield, which is indeed a bright one.
By returning to Nature from the fixed conventions by which their ideas had been for so long “ cribbed, cabined, and confined," the founders of the “New Art’’selected a field in which their individuality would have the fullest opportunity to assert itself, and such creative genius as they possessed would enjoy the advantage of comparative freedom. For long, as we have seen, they had become accustomed to the “ vain repetition" of old and familiar details, whose rendering again and again simply called for the ordinary skill of the mere copyist ; and, throughout this time, their own light had been, metaphorically speaking, kept completely hidden under a bushel, the density of whose weaving increased as years rolled by. On the one hand, the details which they had been content to “ serve up" with such unbroken monotony were, in reality, even if none were omitted, comparatively few and easily mastered, so that it was not easy to go very far astray in dealing with them. On the other hand, what a difference existed under the new rdgime.
At their absolute command, and for the mere asking, they had all the illimitable wealth of Nature’s ever-varying forms, every one containing a lesson of some kind or another. The whole of these, or, at least, of such as are known to us, have never been, and never will be, grasped by any one man, or, for the matter of that, by any one group of men ; and who will venture to estimate what untold legions of rarely beautiful structures, never yet seen by mortal eye, or dreamed of by mortal brain, are awaiting discovery? Here was wealth of inspiration indeed ; and there is small cause for wonder that what may be described as its re-discovery by men endowed with undoubted genius, and of the highest artistic attainments, led to most notable results, for which we can
display unbounded admiration, unqualified by even the slightest suspicion of dissent.
It may be contended, of course, and with reason, that, in the first place, all styles were based on Nature, whether confessedly or not ; and that even those of Oriental origin, in which the imitation of natural forms was most rigidly prohibited by religious dictates, give indisputable evidence of their inspiration from the same source. Precisely so. But it must be remembered that the detail of all styles—which consisted in most cases of the decorative rendering of leaves, flowers, fruit, husks, berries, etc., gathered or plucked straight from the garden, field, or hedgerow—in its pristine state partook very largely of the charm and freshness of the originals. In the course of centuries that charm and freshness have been lost by reason of incessant and ignorant copying, and lifeless repetition of copies. They have become, in a great measure, “ flat ” and uninteresting ; their bloom has been sacrificed by too much handling and re-serving, as would happen to the daintiest creation of the greatest chef if subjected to a similar course of treatment.
If practical demonstration of the truth of this contention be demanded, let the doubter take the first acanthus scroll conceived and drawn by the old Italian artist, in sunny Florence or Venice, who had a curling bunch of fresh – plucked bank ursine, with its spiky serrations, veining, and elusive twists and turns before him, and compare it with the carefully stippled drawing or plaster study of precisely the same detail but taken “from the cast” by the art school “National Medallists” of to-day. Are they the same? The Medallist undoubtedly does the very best he is able to do according to the prevailing system of study ; and let me say most emphatically that it is the system, and not the student, which is to be blamed. So it must always be, unless the artist goes straight to the fountain-head instead of being content to receive his supply of inspiration through old,
circuitous, and worn-out conduits which could not do otherwise than become fouled and contaminated by the foreign accumulations of ages. We find the same fact illustrated everywhere. The sphinxes of the old Egyptians ; the an – themion of the Greeks ; the bold wreaths and foliations of the Romans ; and the crisp and sparkling leafage of the Gothic—to quote but a few typical examples—were instinct with life and beauty when inspired direct by Nature ; but, when reproduced, their true origin is, more often than not, lost sight of, and, as an inevitable consequence, much of their beauty has departed.
The foregoing is, I think, as complete and impartial a summing-up of the “New Art" as need be given here. On account of considerations of space, I wish that it might have been expressed more briefly, but the movement in itself is one of very great importance and far-reaching influence— notwithstanding the fact that some writers who have not studied it, nor appreciated it, as it should be studied and appreciated, are disposed to treat the whole as an evanescent “ craze ”—and it would be altogether unwarrantable for us to dismiss it with inadequate notice.
But it is now time to turn from mere theoretical generalisation to actual demonstration, and take a glance at as many actual examples of this “New Art" work as may fitly be included between the covers of such a book as this. In selecting types for illustration, my aim has been to obtain them from genuine and unimpeachable sources, so that no question as to their authenticity might be raised ; and also to present only such as can be regarded as representative, in every respect.
In the writing-table, Fig. 3, Plate I., we have a constructive form which, in every particular, suggests natural growth ; yet, except in matters of minor detail, there is no attempt in this to copy nature exactly. The same remark applies to Fig. 2, and in a lesser degree to Figs. 1 and 4. The under
NEW ART” (FRENCH). VI. Plate 93