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- The Art of the Exposition - 4/15 -
has taken the fullest advantage of this original piece of ground. The building gives a very good idea of some of the very best tendencies in the modern art of Europe, without being bizarre, like some recent American attempts, in the most wrongly labeled of all art expressions - the "Art Nouveau."
The Norwegian building, somewhat remotely situated, back of the French building and near the Presidio entrance, has very much in common with the Swedish building, and offers the same attractive features of wood and stone construction as the building representing its sister state. Historical traditions and everything else are so much alike in these two countries that it must not surprise one to find the two buildings have so many points of interest in common.
The north of Europe has given to the world many very excellent and genuine expressions of architecture, which, owing to their fine constructive qualities, have been absorbed wherever wood is the principal building material. The art contributions of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark will long remain in the memory of all Exposition visitors.
Holland makes considerable pretensions as to originality of style in a curiously incongruous creation at the north of the Fine Arts Palace. During the last twenty years a peculiarly inadaptable type of building has been developed in Holland by a group of younger architects. Many of these buildings are suggestive of stone rather than of brick construction, and they do not fit in very well into the architectural traditions of the Dutch - builders traditionally of the finest brick structures in the world.
The Holland building at the Exposition is not typical of that great and independent people. It looks cheap and has all the faults of the Art Nouveau, which has, unfortunately, been much discredited, by just such things in our own country, where classical traditions are so firmly and so persistently entrenched.
While structurally this building is of a peculiar, affected, ultra-modern note, the general scheme of decoration inside as well as outside compels much praise. The general feeling of refinement, of serenity, that so strongly characterizes the interior is due to the able work of Hermann Rosse, a capable decorator-painter, who designed and supervised the entire color scheme.
The color scheme inside the Holland building, while daring, is most original in using an unusual combination of steel-blue and warm grey silver tones. These two relatively cold notes are enhanced in a complementary color sense by touches of orange and yellow. A constructive stencil pattern based on the two national plants of Holland, the orange tree and the tulip, add richness to the general effect. Mr. Rosse's very decorative wall painting opposite the main entrance represents the Industries of Peace. While somewhat severe, it adds dignity in motive as well as in treatment.
On the outside some fine decorative tile panels reflect one of the chief industries of the Dutch and also tell of the influence that Dutch art has long received from Holland's East Indian possessions. These tile panels are very decorative. To us, out here, they suggest artistic ceramic possibilities for architectural purposes of which we have taken little advantage. Considering the fact that we have quantities of good clay and that so much original good decorative design is lying idle, this inactivity in architectural ceramics in California is distressing. So far as I know, Batchelder, in Pasadena, still has the monopoly on architectural tiles for the entire Pacific coast.
Other European countries besides Holland are interestingly represented. The Italian building is a dignified building of pure Florentine Renaissance lines, with here and there a modern note.
This should rather be called a group of buildings, since it is a combination of some of the finest bits of Italian Renaissance architecture. The architects of this building succeeded admirably in giving a feeling of antiquity to the general treatment of the whole arrangement, which, under the blue sky of California, brings one straight back into the land of sunshine and artistic tradition. The whole arrangement of this Italian group seems somewhat bewildering at first, but on closer inspection resolves itself into a very interesting scheme which takes full advantage of the irregularly shaped site.
There is a most impressive noble dignity in the hall of the main building, where mural decorations of figural character add much to the sumptuousness of the general effect. It is remarkable how in this age of low ceilings a return to great height for rooms, as in these, Italian chambers, produces a marked note of originality. The light effect created in this way, in all of these replicas of the mansions of the wealthy of the Renaissance period, is most helpful in the display of a multitude of lovely objects - furniture, jewelry, ceramics, tapestries, and yet more. The sculptural imitations of so many old pieces of statuary are not in very good taste. They bear too much the traces of the pneumatic drill, and most of them are cold and devoid of the spirit of the original. Some of the very modern marbles in the various rooms are almost pathetic in their disregard for the standards established by the forefathers of their creators.
France, unfortunately, does not rise above the commonplace, in an extensive building hastily constructed. And Portugal is shining in all the glory of wedding-cake ornamentation that the plaster of Paris artist could produce.
South America appears in a very typical building representing Bolivia. It is evident that it was not a costly building, but its dignified Spanish fašade and the court effect inside are far more agreeable than the pretentious palace erected by the Argentine Republic.
The Orient, with the oldest art traditions in the world, can justly be expected to outdo the rest of the world. We find Japan again, as on previous occasions, excelling in its typical arrangement of a number of small pavilions in an irregular garden. The entire Japanese display, architectural and all, is so perfect a unit that one cannot speak of the buildings alone without thinking of the gardens. The Japanese sense of detail and love of the picturesque are disclosed at every turn. We still have with us in San Francisco, as a memento of the Midwinter Fair of 1894, the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park, and while this new creation at the Exposition is not so extensive, it is none the less charming.
In contrast to the Japanese wonderland near the Inside Inn, the new Republic of China seems to be very unhappily represented, not very far away. The whole Chinese ensemble seems a riot of terrible colors, devoid of all the mellow qualities of Oriental art. If China's art was retired with the Manchu dynasty, then I hope the new Republic will soon die a natural death.
The sculptural decorations of the Exposition are so much a part of the architectural scheme that their consideration must no longer be delayed. The employment of sculpture has been most judicious and has never lost sight of certain architectural requirements, so frequently overlooked. While there are a great many examples of sculptural decorations at the Exposition, there does not seem to be that over-abundance of ornamentation so often confused by the public with artistic effect.
The best compliment that can be paid to the Exposition sculpture is that it is not evident at first and that one becomes aware of it only in the course of studying the architecture. I do not think that, with the exception of the Column of Progress and the groups of the Nations of the East and of the West, the Exposition has produced, through its very unusual and novel opportunities, any great work, or presented any new talent heretofore not recognized; but it will most certainly stand a critical examination and comparison with other Exposition sculpture and not suffer thereby. As a matter of fact, a number of the sculptors of our Exposition were commissioned to do similar work at St. Louis.
In one respect our Exposition must immediately claim originality - that is, in the elimination of the glaring white, with its many ugly and distracting reflected lights, insisted upon for years, in practically all the great expositions of the past. This absence of white is surely a very novel and very helpful feature, from an artistic point of view. The Travertine staff material used, the highly successful work of Mr. Paul Denneville, with its innumerable fine accidental effects, so reminiscent of the tone and the weather-beaten qualities of really old surfaces, is an asset that the sculptors among all the collaborating artists gratefully acknowledge.
The artistic value of the Travertine lies in its beautiful expression of architecture as well as of sculpture. A plain wall becomes a matter of interest and comfort. An ornamental feature or sculpture obtains a wonderful charm and delicacy in this material which is particularly unique in sculpture. The natural Travertine is a sedimentary deposit dating back, it is claimed, to the glacial ages. That imitated here forms the bed of the River Tiber near Rome and was extensively used for ages in the early Roman and Greek era as a building stone for their temples and works of art. While a poor material in cold climates, because of its striation, it was always sought in Italy for its wonderful texture and tone. It was used in the Coliseum and in many other buildings erected during the Roman period.
It is evident that there has been a very happy and close co-operation between the architect and the sculptor - a desirable condition that, unfortunately, does not always exist. Architects will sometimes not allow the sculptor to give full expression to his ideas, will put unwarranted restrictions upon him, and the result is very one-sided.
I had the pleasure of seeing much of the sculpture grow from the sketch to the finished full-scale work, and the kindliness and the vigorous personality of Mr. Stirling Calder added much charm and interest to this experience. Mr. Calder has been the director of the department of sculpture and the inspiration of his own work penetrates that of all his fellow-artists. Among them are many specialists, such as Frederick Roth, for instance, as a modeler of animals, who shows in the very fine figure of "The Alaskan" in the Nations of the West that he is not afraid nor unable to model human figures. Practically all of the animals in the grounds show the hand of Roth.
Like Roth, Leo Lentelli did a good share of the task. His work is characterized by much animation and spirit, but well balanced wherever necessary, by a feeling of wise restraint. I remember with much horror some of the sculptural atrocities of former expositions that seemed to jump off pedestals they were intended to inhabit for a much longer period than they were apparently willing. Repose and restraint, as a rule, are lacking in much of our older American sculpture, as some of our Market-street statuary testifies. It seems that our unsettled conditions find an echo in our art. It is much to be hoped that a certain craving for temporary excitement will be replaced by a wholesome appreciation of those more enduring qualities of repose and balance.
Calder's work, no matter how animated, no matter how full of action, is
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