Mr. Deacon “disliked the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists almost equally; and was naturally even more opposed to later trends like Cubism, and to the works of the Surrealists.” [BM 9/~5]
Mr. Deacon had strong historical precedent for his views. In April and May, 1874, thirty French artists who called themselves the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc. exhibited their works for sale in a Parisian studio. Art critic Louis Leroy responded to the show with a scathing review in Le Charivari in the form of a dialogue. The following except about Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise seems to be the origin of the name Impressionists, which the group of artists used proudly by the time of their third exhibition in 1877.
“I glanced at Bertin’s pupil; his countenance was turning a deep red. A catastrophe seemed to me imminent, and it was reserved to M. Monet to contribute the last straw.
‘Ah, there he is, there he is!’ he cried, in front of No. 98. ‘I recognize him, papa Vincent’s favorite! What does that canvas depict? Look at the catalogue.’
‘Impression — I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it . . . and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.'”
Despite this initial critical disdain, Impressionist painting grew in popularity and influenced younger artists. In 1910, a British painter and critic, Roger Fry organized a show of Manet, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, and others, for whom Fry coined the name Post-Impressionists. Fry and his contemporary critics touted these artists and by the 1920s they surpassed many of the popular late-nineteenth-century British artists as the height of fashion. This cultural shift was illustrated by Evelyn Waugh, Powell’s friend and competing novelist, providing another view of aristocratic Oxonian youth in the early 1920s; his narrator in Brideshead Revisited says. “in opinion I had made that easy leap, characteristic of my generation, from the puritanism of Ruskin to the puritanism of Roger Fry…”
Mr. Deacon, however, was not alone in his persistent distaste for Impressionism and almost everything that succeed it. Alma-Tadema shared this prejudice; John Collier, one of his pupils wrote, ‘it is impossible to reconcile the art of Alma-Tadema with that of of Matisse, Picasso, and Gauguin.”
When John William Godward (1861-1921), a disciple of Alma-Tadema, committed suicide, his suicide note reportedly said that the “the world was not big enough” for him and Picasso.
As late as 1949, Sir Alfred Munnings, a sporting artist in the tradition of George Stubbs, used his valedictory address as president of the Royal Academy for a diatribe against Picasso, Matisse, and their ilk. (see Chew, The Painter who Hated Picasso, Smithsonian Magazine, October, 2006.)
Art movements are referenced repeatedly and knowledgeably in Dance. We will get to Cubism and Surrealism later. Jenkins continues describing Mr Deacon: “Nature had no doubt intended him in some manner to be an adjunct to the art movement of the Eighteen-Nineties.” Many movements competed and elided in late nineteenth century Britain: Pre-Raphaelism, Aestheticism, Symbolism, Arts and Crafts, Realism, Art Nouveau, and so on; there was no single “Art Movement of the Eighteen-Nineties.” By his imprecision, the Narrator is emphasizing how isolated Mr. Deacon was from prevailing styles. “Somehow Mr. Deacon had missed that spirit in his youth, a moral separation that perhaps accounted for a later lack of integration.” [BM 9/~5].