An Allegorical Boat

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Bolton Hall. "An Allegorical Boat."

Publishing history

Text

THAT ridiculous Genius could have made a fortune if he would only have painted things as other people see them. Now there is a good demand for pictures of "War" and "Peace" "War" has a regiment of men, nicely dress-parading up a hill at double-quick. There is some smoke in the middle distance. Here and there a man has softly fallen,—presumably killed for effect,—a gray war-charger, and so on.

"Peace" has one of the same sort of men, immeasurably smug, with a woman's arm on his neck and several stolid children, apparently waiting to be told that they may go. Some fruit and a workman's cap—

The Boating pictures ought to be of eight neat collegians with a little coxswain. The faces should look like Cheshire cheeses, and the figures like tailors' dummies. That sort of picture sells. People like that kind.

But this man, when he got an order, put in the foreground of his battle-piece a greenish corpse, torn from the hip to the neck, and a wretch trying to drag himself off the dusty road, with his bowels trailing in his shadow, and— Well, I won't describe it. His "Peace" was a picture of a ragged orphaned babe, with cavernous face. From dirt and neglect, ulcers— But there! If I were to tell you about his pictures as they are, you would not buy my book. The worst of it was that he labelled them "Savagery" and "Civilization."

But I was going to tell you about the boat. It was to be a picture of "Progress in the Nineteenth Century." Well, on one side, in front of the boat, he had a lot of people lolling at their ease. They had whips in their hands, and seemed to be making the ragged people in the stern do the rowing. And all the poor-looking people were on the same side, too, so that the boat tipped over frightfully. The helmsman was perched away up on the gunwale, trying to keep the balance; and he must have been neglecting his steering, for you could see a half-circle of foam in their wake.

I asked my Genius what that meant, besides meaning that the picture would be thrown back on his hands. He said "the boat is Society, and the people in the front are the cunning and the strong, who have compelled the lower classes to leave their places and to toil for them. That was the reason that all were on one side of the boat. The intelligent helmsman is doing the best he can to keep things straight. The figure with the seraphic face, not quite finished, is just an ordinary crank, climbing up on an oar rigged out over the tilting side, and sacrificing comfort and endangering his support to correct a result of social wrong." Now, if Moses or Jeremiah had painted a thing like that in biblical times, it might have sold. Besides, they weren't dependent upon the public. But for a commercial painter! Why, he could no more do it than an editor could admit that the "policy" of the paper came from the counting-house. My painter is a totally impracticable man.