7 May 2019

A Moment of Sadness or Anger

An anonymous writer on the front page of the La Chronique des arts et de la curiositĂ© (March 23, 1901), my translation:
There is not one among us who, in the last few years, has not experienced a moment of sadness or anger at seeing the most admirable landscapes disfigured by unseemly advertisements and posters. All along the roads and railways, in both the mountains and beside the sea coast, advertising is everywhere, invasive and clumsy. We look on aghast as the gigantic placards multiply, disgraceful and gaudy.

The countryside was once the traveller's companion; it offered an ephemeral but charming vision to those who were passing through and unable to pause; the sight of ever-changing hills, woods, rivers, and valleys stirred the imagination and seemed to evoke nature in all its richness and variety. Now the clownish advertisement arrives and casts a pall over the earth and the heavens alike. The German provinces of the Rhine and the Belgians are preparing laws against this menacing ugliness. The time has come for our own country to consider its defence.

While the barbarians may have conquered the world, we should not resign ourselves to it, nor should we allow bad taste to triumph. Natural beauty is one of our rarest and most precious gifts, and it demands both respect and vigilance. The same effort we put into the conservation of monuments and works of art should be spent protecting the beauty of the countryside and saving it from immitigable ruin — it is a beauty we did not create, but one which we enjoy.

Perhaps we should bear in mind that this form of beauty is worth more than any other, and recall, with Renan, that things which are beautiful in themselves are "like a myrrhine vase which contains everything that genius has, through wearying reflection, struggled to express in faint outlines."

Isaac Levitan, Train on the Way (1895)