Need a little hit of Monet? A shot of Gauguin? A dose of Degas? No problem, this fall the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has got them all – the latest travelling exhibition of world-famous art to grace their walls, A History of Impressionism, brings together some of painting’s greatest hits of all time…
Welcome to A History of Impressionism, a travelling exhibition of 75 works usually housed at The Clark in small-town Massachussetts. The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is a world-renowned institution nestled in the Berkshires, founded by the Clarks in 1950 to house their personal – and jaw-dropping – art and artifact collection. It counts many of the most history-changing French paintings the world has known, and now they’re here in our fair city! Here are five masterpieces you just can’t afford to miss seeing in the flesh.
The Snake Charmer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme: An icon of the Orientalist fashion so popular in the 19th century, this painting is one of Gérome’s most detailed and jewel-coloured works in the academic style developed at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Sterling Clark grew up with this work in his living room, and had his own chance to purchase it year later, after his father had sold it. The smooth skin of the young boy contrasts with the scales of the snake in a way that heightens this risky conflation of innocence with danger.
The Bath, by Berthe Morisot: One of the only female Impressionists as well as a member of the haute bourgeoisie, Morisot was no exception to the restricting rules of conduct that governed women of the time. Therefore unlike many of her fellow artists, she refrained from painting exterior scenes and rather painted scenes that she was intimate with, like a woman’s toilette. Here, the brushstroke and inventive mix of colours – everything from pale blue to rich yellow figures in the pale pink background – are quintessentially Impressionistic.
A Box at the Theatre (At the Concert), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir: There’s a reason Renoir has become synonymous with chocolate boxes and romance: he spent much of his career illustrating his love of the female form, painting women and feminine sensuality in soft-brushed tones of pretty pink punctuated by high-octane detailing. Here, two pale-faced girls sit patiently waiting in a lushly-velveted theatre box. Unlike some of his Impressionist brethren, Renoir had a fascination for scenes of urban life rather than pastoral settings.
Dancers in the Classroom, by Edgar Degas: Renowned for his countless paintings of ballerinas (you’ll find them reprinted of cups and umbrellas in museum shops the world over), Degas has rarely composed his space as interestingly as in this painting. The majority of the foreground is dominated by a wide open space in the dance room. This breathing space, which makes the pretty dancers and their prink and red accessories stand out that much more, shows the influence of Japanese wood cuts on the French painter.
Young Christian Girl, by Paul Gauguin: Recognized as one of his most “modern” works, this painting by Gauguin makes it clear why he was deemed a peerless colourist. This celebration of yellow makes the painting’s subject, a praying girl, altogether secondary to the formal qualities of its shapes and hues, therefore showing the great influence of the artist’s stay in Tahiti. Local art and the brilliant colours of the island’s natural environment encouraged the painter to play with flattened forms and an unrealistically expressive palette.
A History of Impressionism, October 13, 2012 to January 20, 2013
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1380 Sherbrooke West, (514) 285-2000
Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Snake Charmer, c. 1879, © The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.51; Berthe Morisot, Bourges, 1841 – Paris, 1895, The Bath, 1885–86, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, (Photo by Michael Agee); Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Limoges, 1841 – Cagnes-sur-Mer, 1919, A Box at the Theater (At the Concert), 1880, Oil on canvas, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, (Photo by Michael Agee); Paul Gauguin, Paris, 1848 – Atuona, Marquesas Islands, 1903, Young Christian Girl, 1894, Oil on canvas, 65.3 x 46.7 cm, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, (Photo by Michael Agee)