Art in France
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fairly comprehensive manual emphasising the view that the underlying character of French art is no less persistent and apparent than that of other nations. Part I. Christian Art. Part II. Classical Art. Part III. Modern Art. Valuable classified bibliographies.
It may be that the very variety of French Art invites special studies rather than to general appreciations. It does not present that unity of character which is so striking in most other countries. In England, in Germany, in Italy, in Holland, in Spain, art reveals itself as the work of a single race, and even in some cases of a single century.
In France, artistic continuity embraces very different styles, all equally original and sincere. No one would hesitate to say which has been the golden age of Greece, Italy, Spain, England or Flanders. In France, it is impossible to pronounce without scruple; each century, from Philip Augustus to our own day, has partisans.
The individuality of France is very ancient. It has been continually, and sometimes violently modified, but has very rarely shown signs of exhaustion. Art is distributed throughout its history and has always been well adapted to its vicissitudes. It has not, as in other countries, expanded with that momentary exuberance that manifests the full vitality of the human plant and exhausts it. It reveals rather the changing forms of society than a fixed ethnic type.
If there has not always been a French School, or in other words, a great family of artists and a sort of material kinship founded upon the community of methods, there has always been a French Style, that is to say, a moral resemblance between works inspired by the same collective taste. Art has known periods of magnificent expansion, the bloom and fruition of a race; but these have been for the most part brief and intermittent. France has had such periods; the years of the past are full of the work of a society that has always been able to fashion an adornment to suit its taste; our active civilization has never failed to supplement the repose of nature by its industry.
Hence it is very difficult to include the art of France in a statical definition; the best that can be given is the very law of its development: its essence is that suppleness and fidelity with which it has always adapted itself to society in a perpetual process of reconstruction. Above these minor variations, two great phases are easily discerned: the Christian, feudal, and communal France of the Middle Ages created Gothic Art as its form of expression; the rationalistic and strongly centralised France of the Middle Ages adopted the language of Classic Art. These opposite styles express the successive aspects of the same soul with equal sincerity. Yet they would seem mutually exclusive; the Classicists despise the Middle Ages, and the modern restorers of Gothic taste have not yet forgiven those who superseded it.
A trustworthy book on French Art is only possible if its writer abandons these exclusive predilections; they are natural in artists who must either believe in the superiority of their ideal, or fall short of it; they are inexcusable in the historian, who misses his function altogether if he does not make the past more intelligible. Our sympathies should follow French taste m its successive tendencies.
To sacrifice Notre Dame to Versailles, or Poussin to the Master of Moulins is to renounce one half of the French soul; our art, by its wealth and variety, invites its historian to show a supple intelligence and a catholic taste. The function of handbooks such as these, which cannot pursue the phenomena of the artistic spirit into all its objective ramifications, must be to trace and explain those innate subjective characteristics which no fashion in external forms can wholly disguise.
As we follow its evolution, we shall realise that the underlying character of French Art is no less persistent and apparent than that of other nations, and, in spite of those superficial variations which are so obvious, we shall recognise its essential unity.
the book details :
Author: Louis Hourticq
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Download Art in France 26 MB- PDF ebook