Willa Cather’s short story “Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament” chronicles the brief life of Paul, an awkward high school student whose attempted escape from his middle-class world ends in suicide. Set around 1900 in the growing industrial city of Pitts- burgh,“Paul’s Case” was initially published in April 1905 in The Troll Garden, Cather’s first collection of stories, and then in May 1905 in McClure’s Magazine. Cather edited the story for her 1920 collection Youth and the Bright Medusa, and since then the story has become one of Cather’s most anthologized works, a masterpiece of short fiction. Cather’s story centers on Paul and the struggles he faces as he attempts to escape his inevitable future as part of Pittsburgh’s commercial and industrial machine. While Paul is not a direct participant in what Cather refers to as the city’s “war for wealth,” his life is closely connected to Pittsburgh industry: his father’s white-collar position, his job as an usher at the Carnegie Music Hall, and even the paintings he views in the Carnegie Art Gallery. Although he gets “lost” in the art and music at the Carnegie Music Hall and Art Gallery, Paul can never escape Pittsburgh’s focus on manufacturing and industry.
Pittsburgh’s emphasis on commercial success, according to Cather, created a divide between industry and art, and in its striving for material and commercial success, Pittsburgh was not conducive to art. This is a theme she examined in her journalism and fiction. In several columns written prior to the composition of “Paul’s Case,” Cather discusses the difficulties of being an artist in Pittsburgh, a town “where the war for wealth is waged to the uttermost” (“Reinhart,” October 23, 1897, 9). In “Paul’s Case,” Cather expresses this division by referencing Pittsburgh industrialists George Westinghouse and Andrew Carnegie. Although neither are referred to by name, their presence hangs over the story. To Paul, Westinghouse, inventor of the railroad air brake and one of the leaders in the development of electricity, and Carnegie, founder of Carnegie Steel and noted philanthropist, represent the power of industry to control nearly all of local culture. The works of two artists referenced in the story, Jean-François Rafaëlli, a French impressionist, and Martín Rico y Ortega, a popular Spanish painter of Venetian scenes, serve as the means for Paul to briefly escape his dull, dreary life. While “Rafaëlli’s gay studies of Paris streets” receive only one mention, a “blue Rico” in front of which Paul loses himself is specifically referred to twice and serves as the central metaphor of Paul’s desire to escape. A discussion of Cather’s references in her journalism and fiction to these four men reveals a story fully integrated into local culture and Cather’s experiences.
When she arrived at the East Liberty train station in Pittsburgh on June 26, 1896, Cather had no idea what to expect. Recently graduated from the University of Nebraska, she had taken an editorial position at the Home Monthly, a new women’s magazine in Pittsburgh modeled on the Ladies’ Home Journal. Having previously lived in Virginia and Nebraska, this was her first extended period in a large multiclass and multiethnic industrial city. It did not take her long to get acclimated, however, and in her ten years in the city, she experienced all aspects of Pittsburgh society and culture: she worked in the East Liberty neighborhood at the Home Monthly, downtown at the Pittsburg Leader, uptown at Central High School, and in Allegheny City at Allegheny High; she attended numerous performances at the many city theaters, including the Alvin, the Duquesne, and the Carnegie; she took the trolley to the South Side, Homestead, and Sewickley neighborhoods to visit friends; and she rubbed elbows with Pittsburgh’s elite and powerful, including Westinghouse and Carnegie!
As a reporter and a freelance journalist between 1896 and 1902, Cather published hundreds of articles and reviews under pseudonyms for a host of periodicals, including the Home Monthly, the Pittsburg Leader, the Lincoln Courier, the Nebraska State Journal, and the short-lived literary magazine Library. She also published her book of poetry April Twilights in 1903, her first collection of short stories, The Troll Garden, in 1905, and nearly thirty stories, including two set in Pittsburgh: “The Professor’s Commencement” in 1902 and “Paul’s Case” in 1905. After moving to New York in 1906, she continued to visit Pittsburgh for the next decade, often for months at a time. She wrote and edited much of O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark while staying with the family of her friend and love Isabelle McClung at 1180 Murryhill Avenue. Not until January 1916, after the McClung home was sold and before Isabelle’s engagement was announced, did Cather leave Pittsburgh for good. Pittsburgh, however, never left Cather. She used the city as a setting in several stories, including three of her best—“A Gold Slipper” (1917),“Uncle Valentine” (1925), and “Double Birthday” (1929)—and she remained in contact with many of her Pittsburgh friends, including Isabelle and her brother Alfred McClung. Obviously Cather’s experiences are integral to her development as an artist; as Mildred Bennett wrote in 1959, Pittsburgh “matured her, had enriched her understanding and defined her goals” (76).
When she arrived in June 1896, Cather found herself in a city undergoing great changes in terms of demographics and culture, and “Paul’s Case” documents these changes. After Carnegie introduced innovations in mass-producing low-cost steel in the 1870s, the city rapidly grew in population and industrial production. By 1900 Pittsburgh had become the nation’s leading industrial city. The steel, coal, banking, glass, and other industries brought tremendous wealth to the city, and as the demand for Pittsburgh products increased, so too did the city’s population. In 1870 Pittsburgh had approximately 86,000 citizens. By 1900, the population exceeded 320,000 (U.S. Census). The reason, of course, was that jobs were available; it was not unusual for a mill to employ up to 10,000 workers and produce thousands of tons of steel each day. Although unskilled labor formed the bulk of Pittsburgh’s labor force, as Pittsburgh companies increased production, so too did the need for white-collar workers such as accountants and managers. These white-collar workers all contributed to the growth of Pittsburgh’s middle class. By 1896 the city’s population was home to a large unskilled working class consisting mainly of recent immigrants and African Americans, the wealthy elite, the “iron kings” (214) as they are referred to in “Paul’s Case,” and a growing middle-class mix of merchants, white-collar, and clerical employees of the major industries (Weber 11).
Although far from wealthy, this middle class enjoyed a more comfortable lifestyle than Pittsburgh’s labor class, and many moved to the East End neighborhoods of Pittsburgh—Oakland, Highland Park, and East Liberty—to escape the city’s pervasive pollution. And as the population increased, so too did the number of “entertainments” in the city. In 1900 there were at least eight downtown theaters, including the Alvin, the Duquesne, and the Nixon, of which Cather took full advantage. There was also the Carnegie Institute with its library, music hall, art gallery, and natural history museum founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1895 and one of Cather’s favorite places in Pittsburgh. Trolley parks such as Kennywood Park, which Cather visited and wrote about in 1900, were a popular amusement, and the city parks, such as Schenley Park, created in 1899, offered residents a diversion and escape from the difficult working conditions and the city’s pollution. It was this middle-class world Cather entered in 1896 when she moved to the East Liberty neighborhood, and it is this middle-class world where Paul resides.
When she first arrived, Cather stayed in East Liberty at the home of James Axtell, her publisher at the Home Monthly, at 6338 Marchand Street, one of a set of eight small row houses built in 1898 and owned by John D. Rush, Axtell’s partner at the Home Monthly and the National Stockman and Farmer. In 1896 East Liberty consisted of a mix of white-collar workers, merchants who catered to the wealthier residents of the city, and boardinghouse residents. From 1896 to 1901, Cather was one of the latter. In a letter to Mariel Gere dated August 4, 1896, Cather exaggeratedly calls the East End of Pittsburgh the “tony part of the town” (Selected Letters 38). This is Paul’s neighborhood. Cordelia Street “is a highly respectable street, where all the houses were exactly alike, and where business men of moderate means begot and reared large families of children” (209). According to Byrne and Snyder, Cordelia Street is based on Aurelia Street, within a block of where Cather worked at the Home Monthly office on Shady Avenue, just around the block from the Axtell home (83). In a letter written to Gere just after a “few hours in the City of Dreadful Dirt” in June 1896, Cather relates how her “heart sank” upon entering the Axtells’ East Liberty row house. The parlor was sparse and uncomfortable, the furniture covered in “hair cloth.” She was, however, transfixed by the only ornament in the Axtells’ parlor, a crayon portrait of Grandfather Phillip Axtell, one of the founders of the Shady Avenue Cumberland Presbyterian Church (Selected Letters 33–34). With its dripping faucets, uncomfortable furniture, “horrible yellow wallpaper,” and front stoop, Paul’s home is likely a small two-story East Liberty row house, similar to the Axtell residence. Cather, however, replaces the portrait of the grandpa with the “pictures of George Washington and John Calvin, and the framed motto, ‘Feed My Lambs’” (208).
In addition to setting, Cather integrates Pittsburgh culture and news into the story of Paul to express the negative effects of Pittsburgh’s focus on manufacturing over art. Cather quickly came to understand the city’s powerful manufacturing and commercial interests, and her journalism includes several references to the difficulties of either creating or appreciating art in a town so focused on material success that it looks upon everything in terms of value. For example, in two articles on the death of Charles Stanley Reinhart, a figure on whom she would base her famous 1905 short story “The Sculptor’s Funeral,” Cather criticizes Pittsburgh’s valuing of industry and material wealth over art (Bennett 71). Reinhart, a Pittsburgh-born artist and illustrator, won international acclaim for his paintings and illustrations. His most famous painting, Washed Ashore, won awards at the Parisian Salon in 1887 and the Parisian exhibition in 1889. Despite his reputation, Reinhart died nearly unknown in Pittsburgh. In two articles, one published in 1896 after the death of Reinhart and one published a year later on the placing of his gravestone in Allegheny Cemetery, Cather describes the conflicting relationship between industry and art. In the October 1896 Home Monthly, Cather, writing under the name Lawrence Brenton, eulogizes Reinhart, who died in August 1896, and critiques the city’s lack of appreciation for the arts.
Pittsburgh is not a city on which art has often smiled. Like most American towns it has had other things to think of and has found them to be so engrossing as to almost completely shut out that form of spiritual development which manifests itself in the artistic creation. (16)Reinhart the artist was unappreciated in his hometown because Pittsburgh’s culture values manufacturing, industry, banking, and the acquisition of wealth over all else.
In her second article on Reinhart in the October 23, 1897, edition of the Lincoln Courier, Cather reports on the installation of his gravestone and recalls the artist’s sparsely attended funeral. She is still shocked that “His death was not even known in Pittsburgh.” The city is not a city conducive for art, for it is
a purely commercial town, a town of great industries and of almost incalculable national resources, . . . a town red the year around with the light of mighty furnaces, where crude iron is torn from the heart of the earth and forged into steel and sent to all the seaports of the world. A town in which the war for wealth is waged to the uttermost, in which money is omnipotent and success is measured only by decimal points. (9)Writing under her own name—this article was written for her Nebraska readers—Cather argues that the city’s unceasing “war for wealth” controls nearly all of Pittsburgh culture, making artistic expression and appreciation nearly impossible.
In “Paul’s Case,” the privileging of industry and commercial success over art and culture is symbolized by the figures of George Westinghouse and Andrew Carnegie, who, though unnamed, hang over Paul’s Pittsburgh life. Paul’s school, Paul’s jobs at the theater and the accounting firm, and Paul’s neighborhood are all in many ways dependent upon the continuing success of Pittsburgh’s industries. When Paul’s father and neighbor sit on their front stoop, the neighbor tells how his “chief, now cruising in the Mediterranean, kept in touch with all the details of the business.” This is a reference to Andrew Carnegie. When Paul’s father speaks of his company building a railway to the pyramids, Paul reacts by snapping his teeth: “He had an awful apprehension that they might spoil it all before he got there” (212–13). Although the employer of Paul’s father has never been identified, recent discoveries of the Westinghouse Company’s plans to build a trolley line in Egypt to the pyramids indicate Paul’s father likely works for the Westinghouse Company.
It should not be a surprise that Cather would refer to Westinghouse and Carnegie. As the headline editor for the Pittsburg Leader, she saw daily news reports on the comings and goings of Pittsburgh’s powerful industrialists, including Westinghouse and Carnegie. In addition to their business ventures, Cather would also have been aware of the personal lives of Pittsburgh’s power brokers. Gossip columns followed the parties and events attended by Carnegie, Westinghouse, and other Pittsburgh luminaries. In fact, their paths crossed several times during these years. In November 1897 Cather reported on a reception for First Lady McKinley, also attended by Mr. and Mrs. Westinghouse, and Cather and Carnegie both attended Mark Twain’s seventieth birthday party on December 6, 1905, at Delmonico’s in New York City. Cather’s interactions and writings focusing on these men are worth examining, for they provide a more in-depth understanding of the integral Pittsburgh connections in “Paul’s Case.”
George Westinghouse (1846–1914), inventor of the railway air brake and one of the leaders in the electric industry, was one of Pittsburgh’s most powerful industrialists. Westinghouse Electric was headquartered in Pittsburgh and the Westinghouse estate,“Solitude,” was located in the Point Breeze neighborhood of the city, only a few miles from where Cather lived in East Liberty. Founded in 1886, Westinghouse Electric companies employed over 50,000 workers by 1900. Cather was obviously aware of Westinghouse and his company. She wrote briefly about him in her November 27, 1897, article for the Lincoln Courier covering President William McKinley’s November 3, 1897, visit to Pittsburgh to celebrate Founder’s Day, the Carnegie Institute’s annual tribute to Carnegie. After noting that Mr. and Mrs. Westinghouse sat with Pennsylvania governor Daniel Hastings, Cather digresses on the couple.“Everyone knows that George Westinghouse is the foremost manufacturer of electrical apparatus in America, employing hundreds of men—who, by the way, are called the Westinghouse slaves—and is a mighty man” (The World and the Parish 519–20). Cather makes a similar reference in One of Ours, when Tod Fanning states,“Whoever likes it can run for a train every morning, and grind his days out in a Westinghouse works; but not for me any more!” (370).
Cather does not, however, limit her criticism to Westinghouse. She heaps more scorn upon his wife, Marguerite. Cather notes her physical appearance and aristocratic airs, describing her “like a circus rider well along on the downgrade” with a “servant-girl physiognomy.” She disparages her for dying her hair and for not living the full year in Pittsburgh: “After that she shook the smoke out of her peroxide tresses and dwells haughtily apart in Lenox, Mass.” She also sneers at her for not knowing opera. After the performance of Massenet’s Hérodiade by Italian baritone Giuseppe Campanari, Cather writes, “The applause was deafening; Mrs. Westinghouse, who doesn’t know Massenet from Marmalade, leading” (The World and the Parish 520).
Cather’s critical remarks about the Westinghouses seem odd, given that much of Cather’s critique is not quite true. For example, Westinghouse was not considered a tyrannical boss like Carnegie; he offered his employees relatively strong wages, a pension plan, an employee stock program, and even sick leave, none of which were required by law at the time. Andrew Carnegie once noted Westing- house’s unnecessarily kind treatment of his employees, stating he “could have made a lot more money during his lifetime if he hadn’t treated his workers so well” (quoted in Reis 3). As with her portrayal of Westinghouse, Cather’s depiction of Mrs. Westinghouse does not quite ring true. At the time Cather was writing, the couple’s social activities had long been a part of Pittsburgh’s gossip scene, and Cather would have been at the very least aware of Mrs. Westing- house’s social engagements; the couple had been married for thirty years, and they entertained almost daily. Marguerite Westinghouse was also not classless and ignorant. According to Quentin Skrabec, she was known for her fine clothes and her European fashions as well as her collection of art (78). She was also not blonde! Why Cather felt the need to mock both Westinghouse and his wife for her Nebraska readers is unclear. What should be perfectly clear is that Cather was aware of both the professional and personal stories related to Westinghouse and did not hold a very high opinion, at least in print, of the Pittsburgh industrial giant.
Cather was also likely aware of the Westinghouse Company’s plans to build a railway in Cairo. While we cannot be certain when Cather learned of these efforts to build a trolley line to the pyramids, the plans were being discussed in the newspapers as early as 1897. In an article entitled “To the Pyramids by Electricity” in the May 1897 issue of the Street Railway Review, the plans for an electric trolley line to the pyramids are discussed. In addition to details regarding the railway and location, the unnamed author echoes Paul’s worry that the railway “might spoil it all before he got there,” writing,“It is, artistically speaking, a huge mistake to destroy the old world aspect and the orientalism of the road to the pyramids by anything so shockingly modern as the electric tram” (317–18). While it is not very likely that Cather read the Street Railway Review, the Home Monthly did share an office with the National Stockman and Farmer, which Cather wrote for in 1896 and 1897. Perhaps she saw the article there.
Several short notices of Westinghouse’s plans appeared in periodicals in 1898 and 1899: the April 30, 1898, edition of Scientific American reports that the installation of a power plant is being considered and that Westinghouse is likely to receive the contract (278); the February 2, 1899, New York Times reports “negotiations have just been closed” by Westinghouse for fourteen trolley cars for use in Cairo (8); and the February 2, 1899 Chicago Daily Tribune reports “trolley cars of Pittsburg cars are to invade the land of the Pharaohs” (12). In a brief article entitled “Electric Line to the Pyramids,” the July 15, 1899, Street Railway Review reports that the line to the pyramids has been completed. Included are photographs of the trolley line (436).
While Cather may have seen these notices, a more likely reference point would be an article that appeared in the August 1899 edition of Cosmopolitan. In “By Trolley to the Sphinx,” Alexander Harvey writes that by the winter of 1899, trolley cars to the pyramids should be operational (339). In addition to the “obstacles” to building the lines, like the previously discussed article in the Street Railway Review, Harvey echoes Paul’s “apprehensions” when he discusses the negative responses to the plan for trolleys in Cairo; while some argue trolleys will allow tourists to see more of Egypt, there are those “who look upon the completion of the trolley line with profound regret.” Tourists, especially Americans, he writes, “come to the Pyramids to drink champagne and eat cold chicken. They climb up the face of the pyramids as far as they dare, aided by the white robed Bedouins in charge, and sing ‘We Won’t Go Home until Morning’” (339–40). The completion of the trolley line, Harvey argues, will only exacerbate this situation.
Given her connections to Cosmopolitan, it is very likely that Cather read Harvey’s 1899 article. In 1896, soon after her arrival in Pittsburgh, an editor from Cosmopolitan offered her $100 for her story “The Count of Crow’s Nest.” She declined because she needed the material for the Home Monthly, and the story appeared in the September and October 1896 editions of that Pittsburgh magazine (Selected Letters 39). She would publish her story “Eric Hermannson’s Soul” in the April 1900 edition of the magazine. In addition, in April 1899, the editors of Cosmopolitan published a page of letter excerpts in praise of the magazine, and under the lead, “From the Editor of the Pittsburg Leader” is a quote from Cather dated March 9, 1899: “The March Cosmopolitan Represents the Best American Illustrators.” Signed “W. Cather,” the “Editor of Pittsburg Leader.” Cather’s brief letter praises the illustrations for John Brisben Walker’s article, “The Building of an Empire—Part I Mohammed” that appeared in the March 1899 edition: “Eric Pape’s drawings . . . are among his most brilliant efforts. His daring imagination is at home in the splendors of Oriental myth” (704). By August 1899, when Harvey’s article appeared, Cather was likely a regular reader of Cosmopolitan and would have been well aware of the Westinghouse Company’s plans for a trolley line to the Egyptian pyramids.
While Paul’s father works for Westinghouse, his neighbor works as “a clerk to one of the magnates of a great steel corporation” and tells “how his chief, now cruising in the Mediterranean, kept in touch with all the details of the business, arranging his office hours on his yacht just as though he were at home, and ‘knocking of enough work to keep two stenographers busy’” (213). This is an obvious reference to Andrew Carnegie, whose travels abroad were documented. These “stories of palaces on Venice, yachts on the Mediterranean,” and “the triumphs of these cash boys who had become famous”— another reference to Carnegie—appeal to Paul’s “fancy” (214). While Paul responds to Westinghouse with disdain, Carnegie seemingly escapes criticism. The reason, of course, is his philanthropy. Carnegie may have been a ruthless businessman, but his philanthropy, specifically his donation of the Carnegie Institute, allows Paul to enjoy beautiful works of art and music. Like Paul, Cather took full advantage of his philanthropy and attended dozens of concerts and art exhibitions at the Carnegie. Her references and connections to Carnegie illustrate her knowledge and understanding of his complicated relationship with Pittsburgh.
Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) built his empire in Pittsburgh, and after he sold Carnegie Steel to J. P. Morgan in 1901 for $480 million, he was considered the wealthiest man in America. Carnegie was not content to simply save his money but rather sought out large philanthropic projects. In his 1889 essay “The Gospel of Wealth,” Carnegie expresses his philosophy of philanthropy. Although the accumulation of wealth is necessary to the growth of the nation, the wealthiest Americans, rather than pass their wealth from generation to generation, should spend to benefit all of society. Carnegie writes, “The man who dies rich dies disgraced” (5). These sentiments appear contradictory, especially from so ruthless a businessman. Carnegie, however, did not view them as such. He believed that to help the common people, one must do so not through charity but through education and art. The belief in education and large-scale philanthropic projects rather than individual charity was one Carnegie had been formulating for much of his life. He specifically believed in the donating of free libraries, where he hoped intellectuals, artists, and the common worker could gather to learn and exchange ideas. According to Robert Gangwere, Pittsburgh “was the zenith of his first experiment in large-scale philanthropy” (3).
Carnegie built numerous libraries in the Pittsburgh region, including those in Homestead and Braddock, two mill towns outside Pittsburgh. Although he had offered a library to Pittsburgh in 1886, the city had declined. Per Carnegie’s terms, the city was responsible for the upkeep of the facility, but since they had no power to tax the citizens, Pittsburgh refused Carnegie’s gift. In 1894, however, city leaders levied a tax to support further maintenance, and the Carnegie Institute, the library, art gallery, music hall, and natural history museum were dedicated on November 5, 1895. In his dedication, Carnegie expressed his philanthropic philosophy and argued that wealth should not be “distributed from week to week in driblets among the masses of the people,” but rather should be
concentrated in one great educative institution, lasting for all time, its usefulness is forever, and it ministers to the divine in man, his reason and his conscience, and thus lifts him higher and higher in the scale of being; he becomes less and less of the brute and more and more of the man. (“Presentation of the Carnegie Library to the People of Pittsburgh”)
Cather refers to Carnegie several times in her journalism, and her references indicate her understanding of his complex relationship with Pittsburgh. In an article for the January 3, 1897, edition of the Nebraska State Journal, Cather refers to Pittsburgh’s most famous industrialist sarcastically as “Holy St. Andrew Carnegie” (The World and the Parish 393). In the March 1897 edition of the Home Monthly, Cather profiles the Museum of Natural History. In this glowing article, Cather provides an overview of the collections of the museum and writes of the importance of the museum to Pittsburgh:
the interest that all classes have shown in the museum demonstrates how hungry the people of Pittsburgh were for one. During the time of the art exhibit the visitors at the museum averaged 1,000 a day, as large an attendance as that of the National museum at Washington. On Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, when the workingmen turned out in full force, the attendance ran as high as 10,000. The people have taken hold of the museum and claimed it for their own. (2)The article concludes with an invitation: “If you care for a good knowledge of Carnegie Museum, now open to the people, come and make it a visit” (4). An article on Homestead from the August 24, 1901, edition of the Lincoln Courier is not so positive. Cather describes the Carnegie Library of Homestead as “full of good things that no one has time to enjoy” and points out the incongruity of Carnegie’s philanthropy of giving libraries to the people while keeping wages low and work hours high. Given the exhausting twelve-hour shifts “year in and year out,” the workers have so little time for rest and relaxation that “clubs and libraries established in their interests seem almost absurdities” (“The Real Homestead” 1).
Although Carnegie intended its most important use to be the library, the Carnegie Art Gallery quickly rose to prominence. In 1895 the gallery held its first major exhibition, a collection of paintings on loan from other collectors and galleries. Many of Pittsburgh’s elite lent paintings to the exhibition, and, overall, Pittsburgh collectors accounted for 157 paintings, nearly half of those on display. This turnout demonstrated “that Pittsburgh businessmen, as discernable and generous patrons of culture, were second to none” (Neal 26). It was estimated that over half a million people attended, and as a result of this success, Carnegie endowed the gallery with a gift of $1 million. Carnegie also supported and funded an annual exhibit featuring some of the finest contemporary works.
After the success of the 1895 loan exhibition, the Carnegie held its first annual international exhibition in November 1896. With the support of Carnegie and the hard work of the curator John W. Beatty, the Carnegie exhibition, later named the Carnegie International, attracted some of the greatest artists from all over the world. John White Alexander, William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, and James Whistler are just a few of the nearly two hundred artists whose work was displayed in the 1896 show. Cather, writing as Lawrence Brenton, reviewed this first exhibition for the January 1897 Home Monthly and discussed the prize-winning paintings, Winslow Homer’s The Wreck, Gari Melcher’s The Ship Builder, and John Lavery’s The Lady in Brown. In this short column, Cather asserts the importance of everyday experiences in art and calls the 1896 show “a conspicuously good one” (11).
Cather wrote about the Carnegie Gallery exhibitions several times in her journalism. In a gossipy “Passing Show” column for the Lincoln Courier published on October 30, 1897, Cather writes about the opening of the second International exhibition. Cather had attended a dinner for the opening of the exhibition with the artist William H. Low, who was also a judge that year, and Cather expresses her delight in this insiders’ point of view. She writes: “Last week I called Pittsburgh an artless city. Heavens! If we haven’t had ‘art’ thrust upon us from all quarters this week.” The winners, she writes, will be announced on November 3, “when Andrew Carnegie—you see I put Andrew first—and President McKinley, who owes Andrew half a million dollars’ worth of votes and knows it, and all the rest of the push will be here” (3).
Cather’s most detailed article on the Carnegie Art Gallery,“A Philistine in the Gallery,” subtitled “Some Remarks on the Pictures at the Carnegie,” was originally published in the April 21, 1900, edition of the short-lived monthly Library and signed by “Goliath.” In “A Philistine in the Gallery,” Cather adopts the persona of the Philistine,“Goliath,” whose opinion of art stands in opposition to the “Young Art Student.” “It is suggestive to observe how often the greatest work combines the qualities which appeal to the artist and those which appeal to the people” (8). In her praise for the Carnegie collection, Cather argues that the works at the Carnegie are meant for all, not just the educated few. Cather thus focuses on the Carnegie Gallery’s permanent collection and several artists who figured prominently in the early years of the Carnegie, including Jean François Rafaëlli and Martin y Rico Ortega.
Cather adopted this perspective of the “Philistine” in opposition to the “Young Art Student” in several pieces over the next few years. In an article entitled “The Philistine in the Art Gallery,” published in the November 17, 1901, edition of the Pittsburgh Gazette and written under the name Henry Nicklemann, Cather reviews the sixth Carnegie International exhibition and again takes a swipe at the “Young Art Student”:
When the young art student visits the Carnegie gallery he is inclined to wonder what pretext the thousands of visitors who are not art students have for going there at all. They either admire the wrong pictures, he says, or the wrong things in the right pictures, or they see the entire collection of paintings with a distorted vision. (5)The “Young Art Student,” however, is simply wrong, Nicklemann writes. The paintings are not meant for the educated elite but for the people of Pittsburgh.
Given her regard for the Carnegie Institute, it is not surprising that the Carnegie Art Gallery and music hall are important settings in “Paul’s Case.” Both provide Paul with an escape, albeit briefly, from his drab life in the smoky city, and it is at the Carnegie that Paul comes alive. When he arrives for work as an usher at the music hall, he passes through the art gallery, which, he knows,“is always deserted at this hour.” It is here among the paintings that he feels most at ease. He knows that in the “picture gallery . . . were some of Rafaëlli’s gay studies of Paris streets, and an airy Venetian scene or two that always exhilarated him.” Essentially alone among many great works of art, he “possessed himself of the place and walked confidently up and down, whistling under his breath.” Unlike his time at home or at school, Paul feels completely comfortable: “After a while he sat down before a blue Rico and lost himself” (203). Based on archival records at the Carnegie Art Museum, Cather is likely referring to Jean-François Rafaëlli’s Boulevard des Italiens, Paris and Martin Rico y Ortega’s San Trovaso, Venice. Both paintings were entered in the Carnegie International exhibitions—San Trovaso in 1897 and Boulevard in 1899—and both were at one point part of the gallery’s permanent collection. Cather refers to Rafaëlli and Rico several times in her journalism and defends their work from “the young art student” who knows little about painting. While “Rafaëlli’s gay studies of Paris streets” receives but one mention, a “blue Rico” is specifically referred to twice and serves as the central representation of Paul’s desire for escape from both his current life and the dull, middle-class future that awaits him.
Jean-François Rafaëlli (1850–1924) was a French impressionist painter, sculptor, and printmaker. According to records at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Rafaëlli had a total of twenty paintings displayed at the International exhibitions between 1896 and 1923. In 1896, he entered three paintings, and his entry “Notre Dame, Paris” won a surprise second place medal. Cather attended the 1896 exhibition as mentioned in the previously discussed article written under the name Lawrence Brenton. In 1898 Rafaëlli had two works in the exhibition, and in 1899 he submitted four paintings, including his famous Boulevard des Italiens, Paris. Although neither appears in the exhibition catalog, according to Carnegie Museum records, two of Rafaëlli’s paintings had Pittsburgh as the subject, A Dark Corner of Pittsburgh and Front of Carnegie Art Institute (Gallery Archives). Both were completed while Rafaëlli stayed in Pittsburgh in the month before the 1899 exhibition, which opened on November 2.
Rafaëlli’s most famous work, Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, was entered in the 1899 competition, but the painting was ineligible for an award because he served on the jury. Painted early in 1899, this brightly colored street scene centers on an elegant woman among a crowd of well-dressed Parisians. On December 27, 1899, the Carnegie purchased the 53˝ × 47 3/8˝ oil on canvas for its permanent collection for $2,000 (Gallery Archives). It is at the 1899 Carnegie International that Cather likely first viewed the work. For nearly eighty years after purchase, the painting remained part of the Carnegie’s permanent collection. However, on May 15, 1979, the museum sold the painting through a Christie’s auction for $40,000. On January 27, 2010, the painting, which had been in the collection of Raymond and Miriam Klein, was sold at auction for $314,000. Currently its whereabouts are unknown.
Rafaëlli was an important figure in the early years of the Carnegie exhibition. As discussed, he won a medal in 1896 and served on the jury in 1899. When he addressed the crowd on Founder’s Day at the opening of the 4th International exhibition in November 1899, he spoke of the internationalism of art and praised his host city.
Pittsburgh really represents not only that genius of construction and invention which is peculiar to this nation, but because, thanks to Mr. Andrew Carnegie, it represents by the establishment of this Carnegie Institute an idea, a truly great idea. (“The Universality of Art” 980)While serving on the jury, Rafaëlli stayed in Pittsburgh for nearly a month. He was constantly in the public eye, and his activities were discussed in the local newspapers: he was seen painting throughout town in his carriage, which had been fitted as his traveling studio; he spoke fluent English, was very opinionated, and would grant interviews to anyone who asked; he spoke twice to the Art Students League and three times at the Twentieth Century club; he even wrote an article for the November 2, 1899, edition of the Pittsburgh Dispatch, “Beautiful Gems of Art Described by a Master,” which praises the paintings in the 1899 exhibition (Neal 132–33).
Rafaëlli also stirred up a bit of controversy in Pittsburgh, and Cather refers to this controversy in her journalism. She is also likely responding to it by referring to Rafaëlli in “Paul’s Case.” In an interview given in Pittsburgh, Rafaëlli spoke of the aesthetic value of the city’s industrial setting. The October 16, 1899, edition of The Pittsburg Leader reported that Rafaëlli will “make at least one painting from a sketch of the industrial scenes of the Homestead works of the Carnegie Steel Company.” The Pittsburgh Dispatch reported on October 20, 1899, that Rafaëlli was working on five pictures,“the first he has ever painted in America.” One of the paintings, A Dark Corner of Pittsburgh, was one of the four pieces he entered in the 1899 competition. Soho, an uptown neighborhood of Pittsburgh, consisted in 1899 of steel mills, housing for many of the city’s foreign-born employees, and the city dump. Rafaëlli, was also “considering the sketch of one of the crowded thoroughfares during the hazy conditions.”
This focus on the artistic potential of the local industrial landscape was apparently too much to handle for many in Pittsburgh, and critics and artists pounced on Rafaëlli. When Rafaëlli was seen sketching uptown, the Fine Arts Committee tried to persuade him to shift from Pittsburgh’s industrial landscape to the city’s East End (Neal 133). On October 19, 1899, under the “All Sorts” byline, the Pittsburg Leader published a cartoon of Rafaëlli seated before belching smokestacks. A poem satirizing Rafaëlli by Arthur Burgoyne, one of Cather’s friends and co-workers at the Leader, accompanied the caricature. Here is but a sampling:
His art, of course, he’ll first invoke To reproduce great clouds of smoke. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . He’ll paint the point, where to this day The block house nestles, hid away And then his brush will take a jump To Soho and the public dump.The Pittsburgh Press added to the satire. On the front page of the October 19, 1899, evening edition, the newspaper published a caricature of Rafaëlli seated before his easel, painting the city’s everpresent smoke. The caption states, “I am most enthusiastic over your hills. The smoky sky adds to the artistic value of the work” (1). According to Neal, Rafaëlli’s critics were only partially successful in their attempts to shift his focus to the wealthy East End neighborhoods. Rafaëlli actually painted the town dump in A Dark Corner of Pittsburgh. His only other entry that year, Front of Carnegie Art Institute, was the “desired” East End scene, a view from the entrance of the Music Hall,“showing cows grazing on what is now the lawn of the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning” (Neal 133).
The controversy surrounding what part of Pittsburgh Rafaëlli should or shouldn’t paint became even more of a news story in mid-November 1899, after the 4th International opened in early November. A. F. King, a member of the Scalp Level school of artists, a group of painters who sought natural subject matter apart from Pittsburgh’s industrialism, apparently was unhappy about the lack of Pittsburgh artists and the focus on impressionist works in the Carnegie International exhibitions. So he painted a parody of Rafaëlli’s Boulevard and signed it “Rafahelli.” The November 18, 1899, edition of the Pittsburg Bulletin reported that a caricature of Rafaëlli’s “painting of the Soho dump” by King has been on display in a downtown department store window and “has attracted much attention.” The author then lowers the boom on Rafaëlli :
The picture was painted in a short time, as was Mr. Rafaëlli’s, the subject was found in Pittsburg, as was Mr. Rafaëlli’s, and its treatment has the marks of an artist’s brush and intelligence, which Mr. Rafaëlli’s had not. (“Art” 19)Nearly a week later, on November 26, 1899, the Pittsburg Leader published a pen-and-ink reproduction of the King caricature and included a long article on the controversy. Rafaëlli’s painting “has received a large sized storm of protest, both on account of its qualities as a work of art, and for receiving a place among paintings presumably chosen for their artistic and meritorious qualities.” King is also interviewed and blames the inclusion of Rafaëlli on the “prevailing craze of impressionism,” a school he predicts will “not last long for the simple reason that is not a natural one. That is, subjects are not treated in a manner that makes them look natural.” According to the article,“Thousands of art lovers rejoiced that so palpable a hit had been made at a school of modern painting that is regarded as perverted and holding a distorted mirror up to nature” (22).
Cather was certainly aware of the controversy surrounding Raffaëlli. She was working at the Leader at the time, and she and Arthur Burgoyne were close friends and co-workers; she even profiled him in the article “The Men Who Make the Pittsburgh Papers” in the March 3, 1900, edition of Library. Cather, however, did not let the controversy sway her opinion of Rafaëlli. In her article from April 21, 1900, “A Philistine in the Gallery,” Cather writes in response to the criticism of Rafaëlli’s work by the local press, referring specifically to the King painting:
Some very clever, and I doubt not, very young Art Student saw ft to paint a caricature of Rafaëlli’s works while that eminent artist was in Pittsburgh, and the young impressionists here decided that he was not much of an artist. (“Philistine” 9)It should be noted that King was not a “young Art student” at the time but an established Pittsburgh portrait painter born in 1854. After this slight, Cather goes on to praise Rafaëlli’s work; his Boulevard des Italians “has been admired by men who have much longer pasts than the young impressionists have futures.” She also recognizes the brilliance of Rafaëlli’s painting:
The favor and atmosphere of the picture, its freedom and strength are characteristic of Rafaëlli at his best. The woman in the foreground is painted with exquisite refinement, the battered looking gentleman rolling a cigarette has his whole history painted in the set of his clothes. (9)Rafaëlli was a favorite of Cather’s, and she thus defends him from those who fail to understand his work. Her reference to him and to his most famous painting is more than a means for Paul to mentally escape his Pittsburgh life. Rafaëlli, Cather knew, was an artist who conflicts with Pittsburgh society’s expectations of art or the artist, like Paul, whose interests in art place him in opposition to his teachers, family, and Pittsburgh’s industrial machine.
Cather refers to a second painter in “Paul’s Case”: Martin Rico y Ortega, who signed his works as Rico. The first mention occurs when Paul sits in the art gallery “before a blue Rico and lost himself.” Through this blue Rico, Paul mentally escapes Pittsburgh, albeit temporarily, and loses track of time. The second direct reference to the artist occurs when the symphony plays. After he finishes his duties as usher, “Paul sank into one of the rear seats with a long sigh of relief, and lost himself as he had done before the Rico” (205). Like the painting, the music allows Paul to imagine himself in another location, far from Pittsburgh. Several other references to “blue” in the story may also connect to Rico, including the final instance, as Paul jumps in front of the train: “There flashed through his brain, clearer than ever before, the blue of Adriatic water, the yellow of Algerian sands” (234). Venice is located on the Gulf of Venice in the Adriatic Sea.
Martin Rico y Ortega (1833–1908) was a Spanish painter and engraver, best known for his bright, vibrant, and popular scenes of Venice. Born in Madrid, he settled in Venice in 1871 and lived there until his death in 1908. Known for his small richly detailed pieces, Rico won awards at the Paris exhibitions of 1878 and 1889. According to Oscar Vázquez, Rico's works have “rich colouring and heavy impasto and depict the sunlit landscapes and gardens of southern Spain and Venice.” According to records at the Carnegie, the gallery has shown only one painting by Rico in its entire history, San Trovaso, Venice, a small oil, measuring only 18½” × 27½” (Gallery Archives). Purchased by the Carnegie for $1,200 on May 8 or 15, 1897, the painting remained on display as part of the museum’s permanent collection for sixty years until 1957, when it was purchased for $500 (Gallery Archives). Recent discoveries show that the painting is in the home of a private collector in Florida.
Like her references to Rafaëlli, Cather’s references to Rico are worth detailing. According to Polly Duryea, a similar painting of Venice by Rico hung in Cather’s childhood home in Red Cloud, so she was obviously familiar with Rico’s work. (260). Cather also refers to Rico several times in her journalism. In “A Philistine in the Gallery” from April 21, 1900, Cather discusses Rico’s painting, and like her defense of Rafaëlli, she defends Rico from the “Young Art Student.” “Among these graver performances,” she writes, “one comes upon a bit of Venice done by gay Master Rico, San Trovaso, on a sunny morning.” The painting depicts a “very blue sky, a silvery canal, white and red houses, bridges and gay gondolas, and in the foreground the dear Lombard poplar, gayest and saddest of trees, rustling green and silver in the sunlight.’ Despite the brightness and obvious beauty, the Young Art Student “passes by in commiserating silence, for Master Rico chooses to be pretty, and mere prettiness is, in the eyes of the Young Art Student, a sin.” Cather thus praises Rico for his lightheartedness, his playfulness, and his depiction of beauty. This is anathema to the Young Art Student, for he “can find no place in life for the trivial and the dainty and the gay.” Cather then uses several comparisons to show why such paintings and artists are important: “Rico is only a hummingbird, if you will, or a yellow rose in June, but the Philistine will stand by him because he adds somewhat to the gaiety of life” (8–9).
In an article on the Chicago Art Institute for the August 10, 1901, edition of the Lincoln Courier, Cather recycles her early “Philistine” article and again writes of Rico’s popularity and the class with the “Young Art Student”: “Now Master Rico chooses to be pretty, and that in the eye of the art student, is an unpardonable sin. You will find a copy of one of his Venetian scenes in every picture loving home of the middle class.” And yet again, she defends him for his beautiful depictions of Venice:
The people like to think of Venice as a pretty place, where people forget their troubles, and therefore they like Master Rico’s pictures better than those of greater painters than he who have darkened the canals of the city with the shadows of her past. (Courier 2)Obviously, this passage can be related to Paul. Unlike the “Young Art Student,” Paul does not pass Rico’s work but instead stops and stares. The painting allows him to forget his troubles and escape, albeit for just a few moments. Like the reference to Rafaëlli, Cather’s references to Rico go beyond the specific painting and show her defending both his popularity and his use of impressionist techniques. Rico, like Rafaëlli, was an artist who conflicts with society’s expectations of art or the artist. His work, however, has value, Cather would argue, for it appeals to both the artist and the people.
Cather’s references to Pittsburgh industrialists George Westinghouse and Andrew Carnegie and two important impressionist painters, Jean-François Rafaëlli and Martin Rico y Ortega, in “Paul’s Case” illustrate a number of important ideas. First, Cather’s most famous story is fully integrated into Pittsburgh culture and society. We know she based Paul’s crime on a real Pittsburgh robbery that occurred in 1901, and we also know she based Paul on a number of her high school students. However, her references to Westinghouse, Carnegie, Rafaëlli, and Rico have never been fully explored. What is revealed is Cather’s broad understanding of the tension between art and industry in Pittsburgh, what she calls a “purely commercial town.” While Westinghouse and Carnegie represent the control and domination of Pittsburgh’s industrial machine over all of Pittsburgh life and culture, the references to the artists Rafaëlli and Rico symbolize the importance of art to all of society. By understanding her references to these four men and their connection to Pittsburgh history and culture, we gain a further understanding of Paul’s character, as well as Cather’s Pittsburgh experiences.