Extremely Old Art History Books: Modern Painting by George Moore (1906)

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Read this in Google Books

Click here for his profile

I found this for free on Kindle.  An art historian I have never heard of.  For understandable and bad reasons, this man has gone completely under the radar.  Understandable meaning that he had very outdated views of women.  Bad because he recorded first hand accounts of some of major players of the modern art movement.  Edouard Manet?  He had dinner with this man!   Edgar Degas?  He visited his studio!

 According to his profile, he lives up to the stereotype of the art critic/historian as a failed artist.  However, he does create some lovely prose.  On the negative side, he goes all over the place.  He veers from a curmudgeon who longs for art of the past to railing against the art academies.  Structurally, this books acts as an anthology of columns.  He dedicates each chapter on profiles of artists, eras of art, academies, women in art, themes in art such as religion and nationality, and visits to galleries.  Moore also wrote about other mediums such as music and literature.  In comparison to reading an anthology of Roger Fry’s writings, which shows a smooth transition and change of ideas, Moore veers so wildly the reader could suffer from whiplash.

When Moore analyses artwork, he seems to go everywhere at once and sometimes contradicting himself.  This starts with Moore profiling James MacNeil Whistler.  Moore did like Whistler and notes his influence on English art that Whistler’s Japanese influenced art had a style that transcended nationality.  Then he writes that Whistler’s style looked inferior next to Diego Velasquez’s, than claims that Whistler had some superior skill over the Spanish artist.  Humorously, he mentioned that John Ruskin hated Nocturne II.  To top it all off, Moore claims that the artist did not have a strong technique as the old masters because he did not have their good health.

Regarding Manet, Moore absolutely loved him.  I do agree with the critic when he writes that Degas took critical look at life in his paintings.  Moore also railed against people who criticized the French painter.  He even considered Manet better than Diego Velasquez, Franz Hals, Peter Paul Rubens, and Titian.  Moore recounted meeting Manet at a Nouvelle Athene café and writes loving descriptions of the artist.

Images via Google Books

Once Moore talked to Manet, he recieved an opportunity to visit his studio.  As you saw the image above, Manet painted a portrait of Moore.  It did amuse me the way that Moore saw that Manet shifted between having a “dandy” personality but also acted “manly” at the same time.  He waxed poetic about how Manet had the oil paint under his complete control.  However, Moore has this strange belief that the portrait ended up destroyed.  However, when comparing Manet’s painting of Bon Bock to Franz Hals, Moore does admit that Hals has some superior skill over the French painter.  He talks about Manet’s time in Spain and visiting other artist’s studios and criticized the Salon juries who criticized Manet.  He credits Manet for coming up with la peinture claire.  Moore credit’s Manet’s self-taught style to the reason he was good.  In fact, Moore thought one of Manet’s paintings known as Le Linge would make works by Gustave Courbet, Corot, and Whistler look bad.  On their skill, he considers Corot’s and Ingres’s work an improvement on the style of Greek sculptors.

By the way, Moore also met Corot in person!

Via Google Books

In other parts, Moore goes on a tangent about how Dutch painting has a lower quality because the artists do not paint epics.  However, he praises the Holland and Flanders painters and wonder about their art education.  Even claiming that “art died in Italy”.  He did not care for scenes of everyday life.  To elaborate, he did not care for the truth of these paintings and considered them lacking in imagination.  However, he does make an interesting point about the insularity of Dutch painting.  He railed against the decline of French art, after he railed against the art academies.

When Moore did not like an artist, he let his feelings known.  For instance, Moore did not like Fragonard, Pater, and Lancret.  He liked Chardin (called him the “French Velasquez”), Watteau, and Francois Boucher.  When he wrote about Jean Francois Millet, he compared Millet’s skill to “mud-pie making,”  When it came to interpreting art cultural peaks, he laid out some intriguing ideas.  For instance, he believed that art quality in a nation reaches a high peak after a war.  He cites post war Greece (Marathon) , Italy, England (Marlborough), France (Marengo, Austerlitz) and Holland versus Spain.  In short, victory leads to nationalism equals great art.  Regarding geography influencing art, Moore talks about different cultures and the strengths and weaknesses of their art.

On the bad side of reading this, Moore veers from doing profiles of artists to spouting off his personal views on the world of art.  The big one coming from his hatred of the academic schools.  He will go off on the evils of art academies.  Whenever he writes about an artist and if they had academic training, Moore will write about how their art went down in quality.  He goes on and on about artists learning everything but painting.  He uses Renoir as an example of not needing art education.  Moore’s writing does have a snarky edge to it.  One example comes from his review of a Luke Fildes painting known as The Doctor.  “The picture is typical of contemporary art, which is nearly all conceived in the same spirit, and can have no enduring value.”  Rough.  Then again, Luke Fildes does not receive much press these days.  He also rails against curiosity in art.  For me, his ranting goes so over the top, I laugh out loud.

When he dedicates a chapter to women artists, I mentally braced myself.  He largely treats the art of women as trivial.  Compared to most, I have read worse.  He did praise the works of Rosa Bonheur.  Yet, he did not put her in the chapter dedicated to women artists.  Did he not think of her as a woman?

From the first chapter onwards, he spares no criticism against the Art academies.  His writings represented a lot of backlash against the academic art scene found in the Dada movement.  Reading his profile, you understand why he railed against the art academies, because he did not do well there.  This colored his view when he wrote about other artists whom he claimed that their quality went down when they took up training.  I recommend reading this book just to understand what kind of mentalities that influenced art movements back then.  After all, art history classes still read Heidegger despite his Nazi leanings, why can’t students read Moore’s ravings?

ETA: Fixed some sentences, deleted one, and moved some around.

ETA 12/28/2014 : Added quote marks.  A stupid mistake from someone who should know better, so my apologies.

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