Saturday, 12 January 2013

Once Upon a Time ... Impressionism:

Great French Paintings from the Clark


by Nancy Snipper


A stunning exhibition of 75 Impressionist masterpieces is lighting up four grand rooms inside the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts as part of its world tour.  The paintings have come from the Robert Sterling Clark collection – one of the rarest and finest collections of the genre in the world. “This selection focuses on the movement itself – its genesis, context and legacy – so we can illustrate its coherence,” said Nathalie Bondil, MMFA’s Director and Chief Curator who noted that “impressionism has become the best loved and most popular art movement of all time.” 
There is so much to say about the incredible paintings we can see at this intimate treasure as it provides lasting visual memories. The collection first introduces us to the Barbizon School of Impressionists who initiated plein aire painting in the Fontainebleau forest whose main village was Barbizon
Corot, Rousseau, Millet, Daumier, Boudin, Jongkind and Tryon took their ‘lighting cue’ from the paintings of Constable and Turner. I was struck by the stunning expanse of forest and water scenes. But Rousseau felt Millet’s peasants looked like actor dressed up to imitate these folk. In fact, what stands outs so wonderfully in text in the exhibition are the words said by Renoir as he casts comments that show his disdain for Parisian hypocrisy and pretension. As Impressionism caught on as a way to gain status, he made the comment that people are hanging investments on their walls, not paintings. 
Corot: Bathers of the Borromean Isles

Renoir: Self-portrait 1875

Like Corot and Manet, Renoir loved nature. He likened a tree to God – that for him a tree was far more than a combination of carbon elements. Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s ladies are so sensual, and real, we are not surprised when we read that Renoir felt only women makes this world tolerable.  

Renoir: Sleeping Girl

As we move from painting to painting, our eyes feast on so many genius talents whose brush strokes are as varied as the robes, flowers and skies and waves that they painted. Pissarro with his pointealesque innovation and Seurat with his wet on wet techniques, and let us not leave out Degas whose dancers and horses garnered great praise from Renoir who felt he was the only painter who knew how to capture movement.  
One of the great masterpieces hung near Bouguereau’s ‘Seated Nude’ and Tissot’s ‘Chrysanthemums’ were two gems by Boldini. The minute textured realism captured in the velvet robe and dress that his ladies wear as seen in ‘Young Woman Crocheting’ and ‘Crossing the Street’ are second to none in the exhibition. 

 Tissot: Chrysanthemums

 Boldini: Young Woman Crocheting
No doubt about it, these 18th and 19th-century masters of lighting, texture, mood and magnificent nature - captured in a still life or a seascape full of boats bobbing on waves - are immortal. Who else can paint onions and apples and make us what to pick them up off the canvas, but Renoir? Who else can paint peonies so magnificently that we can smell them as we stare at disbelief at their realism and beauty but Renoir? Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Gérôme, Morisot and more timeless talents are in this inspiring exhibition that is a must-see!   

Renoir: Apples in a Dish

Monet: Geese in the Brook

Degas: Dancers in the Classroom
 The exhibition continues until January 20th of this year. Next stop Tokyo (Mitsubishi Ichigogan Museum) followed by Kobe (Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art).