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Collections & Critiques

By Jack Wilner

Fogg Museum is now presenting an exhibit of eighteenth century Japanese prints by Utagawa Toyakuni, one of the finest craftsmen Japan has ever produced. The prints, which are being shown on the first floor of the museum, are primarily humorous and satirical renditions of the actors who lived during the time of the artist. The subject matter is handled so skillfully that it is not necessary to know anything about the characters who are portrayed; depth and interest are implicit in the technique. In certain of the pieces, for example, especially the few which represent the comedians, the systematic repetition of line motifs is exaggerated to such a marked degree that even a person who knows comparatively little about Oriental art cannot help but see the technical precepts which are the bases of that art.

If, however, Japanese art holds no interest for you, it is possible to enter the museum library and spend a little time with the four watercolors which are now being shown, one by Hopper and the remaining three by Sargent. The Hopper landscape serves only to heighten my belief in the excellence of the artist; the solid buildings, the clear pigment, and the clean spaciousness within which each part of the painting exists, are the work of a master painter. No element in Hopper's piece is created "in vacuo"; the houses, mountains, and the water are each related to the other in a very real sense, yet we are not conscious of any obvious attempt on the part of the artist to bring these elements together by means of labored and intricate composition. We find no straining at the leash of any one part to break into prominence and destroy the equilibrium which exists. The Sargent paintings, on the other hand, although interesting and well done, prove only that Sargent knew how to handle a brush. His remarkable dexterity is admirably suited for his subject matter, which consists primarily of wooded scenes and luxuriant foliage, done in a swiftly executed, impressionistic manner. Sargent represented nature in a style that certainly indicates that he knew what he was seeing; Hopper, however, interprets nature in a way that leads one to believe that he can understand certain things which lie beyond his immediate field of vision. In other words, Hopper is the more intelligent, consequently the better painter.

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