XVII
PRIMITIVE ART AND THE EUROPEAN ARTIST

Modern European artists were not necessarily, the first to discover the æsthetic merits of primitive art. In the seventies and eighties of last century a few anthropologists, such as J. Crevaux, and G. Brough Smyth, drew attention to the excellence of primitive work in South America, and in Australia, while G. Fritsch praised the Bushman paintings. But it is modern artists, art dealers and collectors who are responsible for the new understanding of the plastic qualities of West African sculpture.

Up to the middle of the nineteenth century some European artists had illustrated the narratives of the great discoverers by reproducing works of primitive art as ethnographical specimens. A few painters like Catlin, who lived among the North American Indians, travelled and worked on their own account. Hume Nisbett, who over half a century ago was "the only professional artist who has visited the mainland of New Guinea," already recognised the Papuans' "true antique instinct for lines and colours." 92

From about the seventeenth century onwards exotic details had appeared, though only sporadically in still-life and genre painting. European expansion during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was to some extent reflected in the sphere of art, but the interest in exotic forms gravitated towards oriental rather than "savage" themes.

In those days artists went to foreign countries for fresh models and motifs only; their European vision and means of expression remained unchanged. The number of French painters who thus explored the beauties of the Eastern world is astonishingly large. A whole gallery at the Museé

-141-

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