THE imagination can picture to itself no pleasanter fancies than those connected with the early and best days of art, the first and grandest development of civilization. Before the days of stern practicality, when men had time to admire the beautiful, and each race, as it emerged from barbarism, turned instinctively to the representation of beauty as the natural expression of its more refined feelings, there existed what may well be called the "golden ages" of art. Thus we look back to the age of Pericles, at Athens, the Augustine age, at Rome, the Renaissance, in Italy, and the palmy days of art in the Netherlands, as the most pleasing epochs in the world's history. It was then that the love of the beautiful reigned supreme, uncontaminated by the more artificial tastes of later times, when genius commanded the respect and position which gold does now, and painters and sculptors held a rank second to none in the estimation of the people. In modern schools of art-the French and German, for example-we find much of good, but fail to discover any lofty devotion to the cause; for the money-getting mania of the nineteenth century rules even men of genius, and much rubbish is cast upon the world in the shape of carelessly executed work. Still, we here find much of the highest excellence, and the better understanding of technicalities gives men of moderate ability many facilities for success. But art as an educator and an active power in the elevation and refinement of mankind no longer makes itself felt. Its best productions, instead of enriching the people at large, are sold to private individuals who can afford to pay the fancy prices asked, and are thus lost to the world. So it happens that men of the present day are as much indebted to the old masters as any before them; and were it not for the museums of Europe, in which their masterpieces are happily preserved, it would be difficult to say where we could turn for any art education. But these, also, are unaccessible to the mass of Americans, and the question naturally arises, Where are they to look for like advantages? The answer to this question, it seems to me, involves the only new element we can now foresee in the future history of art. Will not America, original and successful as she is in her form of government, educational institutions, and business enterprises, be able to throw some new vitality and vigor into art? That, with all her greenness, she has a bent in the right direction, is evidenced by her appreciation of foreign art and the number of Americans to be found everywhere on the Continent in the pursuit of art studies, as well as by the ever-increasing array of native artists. Whether these beginnings will receive sufficient support and encouragement to result in anything like an original school of art remains yet to be seen; but there are many hopeful indications. Boston has certainly taken a step in advance in the undertaking of an art museum, which, besides being architecturally beautiful itself, is intended to present to the public faithful reproductions of all the classics of painting and statuary, as well as to exhibit the best works of our own artists. It is to be hoped that this project will be carried out in the broad spirit in which it was conceived. There has also been formed recently an association called the Boston Art Club, which is to have rooms in the museum, but is now in rather close quarters on Boylston Street. This club, composed of artists and gentlemen interested in art, serves the very important purpose of bringing into more personal relations a class of men who can be of the greatest benefit to each other.
In addition to its social characteristics, it holds an exhibition every month at which are exhibited chiefly home productions, but also valuable pictures in the possession of individuals. In this way a healthy emulation is excited, and works of merit brought to the notice of the public in a very attractive manner. It is hoped that this method of exhibition will do away with the custom of jockeying pictures, so common among picture-dealers, and so detrimental to the interests of the artist. The recent exhibitions of the club have been highly successful, the last one particularly so. The natural faults are perhaps noticeable in a certain tameness of subjects and some startling effects in color, especially in landscapes, where an extreme verdure is depicted, not warranted by the droughts of recent summers. It is an encouraging fact that Boston - by reputation, at least, the most cultivated of American cities - should be forward in matters such as these, and it is remarked by those conversant with the facts that her artists are showing abilities of the highest order.
The rooms of the club will be again thrown open in May for their final exhibition of the year, to which cards of admission can readily be obtained from members, and it would well repay all interested in such matters to be present. With these few hints on a very comprehensive subject I must close, in the earnest hope, however, that the promising indications I have mentioned may not prove fallacious, but result in some new and glorious era for art.