Friday, September 21, 2012

Last Weekend for Impressionists

The exhibition From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism - Paintings from The Clark finishes at the Royal Academy of Arts on Sunday.  I went to see it on Tuesday and it was crowded for an early weekday.  I can only imagine it will be worse this weekend - but it's still worth going to see.

Banks of the Seine at By (c. 1880-81) by Alfred Sisley
oil on canvas, 54.3 x 73.3 cm
© Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 
Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.534
The exhibition is made up of paintings from the Collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (normally known as "the Clark") in Williamstown, Massachusetts which is currently undergoing building works.  As all good museums do, they lend out their works while they are unable to house them at home - which is how this exhibition came about.  

If you can't get to the Exhibition you can
The exhibition comprises 72 works - and essentially they represent a cross-section of nineteenth century art. Not all of them are by Impressionists - for example it includes by pre-Impressionist painters such as Corot, Théodore Rousseau and J-F.Millet and by "academic" painters such as Gérôme and Bouguereau.

Then there are the "almost Impressionists" like James Tissot who knew the Impressionist painters well and was invited to show in the very first Impressionist exhibition - but declined to do so.  He's somewhat like Manet in that regard.

I was very impressed with his painting of Chrysanthemums.

Chrysanthemums c. 1874–76 by James Tissot,
Oil on canvas, 118.4 x 76.2 cm.
Acquired in honor of David S. Brooke 
(Institute Director, 1977–94).
© Sterling and Francine Clark  Art Institute, 
Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1994.2
The 70 works in the exhibition are presented by genre, in order to reveal the range of subject matter and diversity of stylistic approach in French 19th-century art. The groups of works include: landscapes and cityscapes; marine views; genre paintings depicting scenes of everyday life; nudes; still lifes; portraits - including self portraits of artists central to the exhibition such as Renoir and Degas, and paintings reflecting the contemporary interest in Orientalism.
Overall, it was less good than I was expecting.  I think that's probably a lot to do with the title and the fact that maybe because I was expecting rather more Impressionist paintings.  I guess "Nineteenth Century French paintings from The Clark" doesn't have quite the same appeal!  However I also think I've been a bit spoiled in the past in terms some of the museums that I've visited which have excellent collections of Impressionist paintings.  Plus I've viewed several very memorable exhibitions about Impressionist painters - so it's all relative.

What I liked

One big bonus for me was seeing why Francine Clark loved paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  They were so much more luminous and almost etheral than any Renoir paintings I've seen before.  I'm now wondering whether these ones have either been looked after very well - or have had a jolly good clean to freshen up the colours.  Either way I can now fully understand why some people rave about Renoir.  His paintings jump off the wall compared to ones by other painters!

I'm also very glad I went as there were some paintings that I've now seen in real life which have meaning for me - like Degas's early self-portrait.  This was a lot smaller and blue greener than I was expecting.

Self Portrait in a Soft Hat (1858) - Edgar Degas
Source: Wikipaintings
I'm a big fan of Claude Monet and very much enjoyed seeing two works I don't recall having seen before. Printemps, Giverny is a wonderful study of frothy blossom which Paul Durand Ruel initially acquired.  It then sank from view and didn't surface again until after this death. I suspect he'd kept it so he could look at it!

Springtime, Giverny (1890) by Claude Monet
I also really liked his painting of the needle rock and the arch at Etretat.  However the salmon pink in the sky and the water come through much more in the painting proper.

The Cliffs at Etretat (1885) Claude Monet,
Oil on canvas, 65.1 x 81.3 cm.
Copyright Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute,
Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.528
One of the nice aspects of the exhibition is that original bills of sale - which of course provide provenance - were also on view.  I don't think I've ever been to an exhibition before which was able to display quite so many bills of sale.  Fascinating to see the prices paid at the time and the way in which works of art are described when sold for those sorts of prices.

What I didn't like

I've absolutely no objection to artists who paint nude models.  However I'm afraid I didn't like the paintings of Jean-Léon Gérôme at all.  They very much struck me as the nineteenth century equivalent of titillation and at least one of the paintings struck me as plain p*rn*graphic in terms of the objectification and treatment of women.  Not for me!

NOTE: Exhibition organised by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, in association with the Royal Academy of Arts.

You can read about the Clarks and the history of the museum and collections on the Clark website

1 comment:

  1. Bonjour,
    Je suis heureuse de vous retrouver après mes longues semaines d'absence...
    Une exposition exceptionnelle !
    gros bisous


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