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That Age of Impressionism Show at the Kimbell
All photographs on this page copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved, except one from The Clark.
The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark at Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, opening Sunday, March 11, through June 17
Claude Monet Geese in the Brook (detail) 1874 oil on canvas 29 x 23.6 inches [more info below]
The thrill of great food and unparalleled access to great art drew us inexorably to Fort Worth to see and intimately photograph The Age of Impressionism opening at The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth March 11 through June 17. Anna and I attended the press opening, ate sumptuous food they called "refreshments," then visited every piece we were drawn to in this surprisingly large exhibition, our eyes and cameras often inches from splendid paintings from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (site/story) in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
"The Kimbell Art Museum is the sole American venue for this first-ever international touring exhibition of the renowned Impressionist collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The 73 paintings in the exhibition include 21 Renoirs and six Monets, along with works by Degas , Manet , Pissarro , Sisley , Morisot , [and one each by] Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and other prominent French painters of the period. Among them are some of the most familiar masterpieces of the Impressionist era." The show also includes work by "some leading French artists of the period who worked in alternative styles."
We got to spend as much time with each piece as we wanted — then come back for more after the tour with two very knowledgeable curators, who took turns filling us in on many of the colorful back-stories — with no queues mobbing us away from the art or art guards taking our cameras away. We were watched carefully, but with never a discouraging word or nod.
It's a beautiful show, full of big and little surprises, one of which is that it goes on and on and on, winding through the main galleries of the Kimbell, the only U.S. venue on its three-year, intercontinental tour while the venerable Clark is renovated and expanded. So far, the show has been in Milan, Italy; Giverny, France; and Barcelona, Spain. From Fort Worth it will travel to London, Montreal, Tokyo and Kobe, Japan, and the Kimbell Fact Sheet in the mailed-out press kit lists "China" without mentioning quite where.
I shot all but one of the images down this page directly from the original paintings on the walls of the Kimbell, and I have made every effort to keep those as accurate as possible, without driving back to Fort Worth to check. As superb a museum as the Kimbell is, their press images — mostly handed down from the Clark — are a mixed bag from nice-enough to putrid.
My search for more information and painting sizes (which The Kimbell later provided) led me all over the Internet to many, much worse versions of these works now all in the public domain and widely available in varying qualities, although I can't imagine why anyone would buy them when they often do not even resemble the originals. But then, how would any print buyer know when even the museums that show these pictures are disseminating bad reproductions?
Books, magazines and the web are all notoriously uncredible places to see art as it actually exists, but at least some of us try.
Edgar Degas Dancers in the Classroom 1880
© Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass.
Edgar Degas Dancers in the Classroom 1880 oil on canvas 15.5 x 34.75 inches
DallasArtsRevue photo Copyright 2012 by J R Compton,
top cropped, because it was lost in frame shadow as hung at The Kimbell.
We were both startled when we beheld the actual 1880 Edgar Degas Dancers in the Classroom painting. The version the museum sent out was the light and bright version you may have seen in a local newspaper, on TV or even on our own Arts Calendar (till we figured out the deception). But the real painting as it hangs in this show is a dark, delicate, not at-all gloomy work. Like the darkened dance studio, it takes letting our eyes adjust. It's dark but subtle, and in reality, it is still beautiful.
Those dancers danced in what appeared to the painter as near darkness — although their eyes had probably long-since adjusted to what light there was, and the outside landscape seen through the windows is rendered just right. The real painting [lower, above] was painted well before dance studios got electric lights. The lighter, brighter version came much later and is faked.
Several other images in the official press kit are completely washed out or substantially different from the paintings we saw. I think I understand why those dancers are so often rendered as light. Its actual tones must seem strange and off-putting, not at all like our sometimes mistaken understandings of Impressionism.
I love dark and shadowy things in art, and getting in close to see detailed brush-strokes. I need to get as close as I can to paintings that thrill me — and I believe other artists are probably interested in those same sweet particulars. I have made several very close-up images of work down this page. If you want to see the full versions in all their glory, you might want to attend the exhibition. I don't know how much it costs, but it'll be worth it.
Admission is $14 - adults; $12 - seniors over 60 and students with I.D.; $10 - children age 6-11; and free - children under 6 and museum members; half-price on Tuesdays and after 5 p.m. Fridays. More information on the Kimbell site.
We don't have a budget for it, so we did not peruse or purchase the exhibition catalog, Great French Paintings from the Clark — $30 soft- or $45 hard-cover ($38.50 from Amazon). That book may have decent images, but the ones on this page are significantly more realistic, densely colored and detailed than the often indifferent images in the Kimbell's downloadable image-only Press Kit and other sources in print and online.
New Kimbell Art Museum Deputy Director George T. M. Shackelford and Sterling
and Francine Clark Art Institute Senior Curator Richard Rand led the press tour.
The Clark Collection does not include examples from all the great Impressionists, nor all their best work. Nor did it comprise, as the curators repeatedly assured us that it did, just those who turned out to be the most important. The mix probably was, as they also repeated, pure collector's luck — although the show itself does seem a little padded in the pre and post portions.
It is not the Impressionist show of the century, but it's a good one, and though I suspect there will be many more, I like this one. A lot.
The rest of this story is arranged chronologically down the page.
Constant Troyan Gooseherd 1850-55 oil on panel 18.13 x 14.63 inches
While I was looking for signs of impressionism in the lumpy gooses, Anna was, she said, "thinking of Charles and the herd of geese at White Rock Lake and trying to figure out which was their leader" — usually the one with the biggest wattle — that Anna believes is the white goose, second from the right.
Having carefully avoided reading the mailed press kit till I'd seen the show, I wondered why this early a painting was in a show called Impressionism, only later learning it is The Age of Impressionism, complete with transitional images both fore and aft.
Honoré Daumier The Print Collectors 1860-63 oil on panel 12.12 x 16 inches
My task was easier with these loose brushstrokes and a barely hinted background of wall-to-wall paintings almost hidden in the darkness beyond. We were perusing it, while its quietly colorful characters were losing themselves into a print we can only imagine. This little painting is as delicately ironic as Daumier's caricatures, enticing us into its soft conspiracy, not just asking us to laugh at its broad humor.
Anna said, "I've always been a fan of Daumier's caricatures, and after seeing this, I am a fan of his paintings."
Camille Corot Bathers of the Borromean Isles detail 1865-70 oil on canvas 31.13 x 13.25 inches
I always thought of the Corot landscapes I studied mid the last century in art books and Art History classes as smooth like photographs — or as was much later discovered, filled-in camera obscura outlines. Up closer we begin to understand barely human figures in a wet, impressionistic near-world. I see nude bathers playing on the this side of the lake far from the palace — "a poetic memory," as the Clark's YouTube video describes it, "seen in soft focus."
Anna saw the lady on the left as hugging the tree, then showing concern for the woman about to fall into the murky water.
Édouard Manet Interior at Arcachon 1871 oil on canvas 15.38 x 21.25 inches
Anna stared at this one "a long time, making up a story of a Mother and Son spending time together after a long time apart. She likes its quick, watercolor style."
I was entranced by the comparison of faces — precision in his and the near abstraction of hers looking out over the Bay of Biscay, liking the depth of light and darknesses inside and moody skies on the distant horizon. Not till the curator's tour did I realize that parts of the surface were purposely left the paintless brown of canvas.
Camille Pissarro The River Oise near Pontoise detail 1873 oil on canvas 18.13 x 21.88 inches
Camille Corot was Pissarro's tutor. Here, the student manifests scores of fast, busy little strokes and large, placid, flat solids of paint. Pissarro probably finished this painting quickly on site, while his tutor might have begun en plein air, then retired to his studio to finish it as he thought it should look, the Impressionist student more a stickler for reality captured in moments, not years.
Claude Monet Geese in the Brook 1874 29 x 23.6 inches
According to the I.D by the painting, "The early 1870s were a critical moment in Monet's development as an artist. His colors brightened and his brushstrokes became, more and more often, small, repeated touches — all in an effort to capture the sparkling effects of light …" See the detail of the geese at the top of this page.
When we first looked at this painting, bird- and goose-lovers that we are, we only saw the geese in the pond. We knew they were real. As we got closer, however, the micro view got more exciting with white and orange and blue reflections shattering in the rippled water. Its reality pretty and accurate with not a leaf or a beak showing any precise visual detail.
Anna likes the way the artists, Troyan [above] and Monet portray their birds' feelings so well — Troyan, tense and anxious; Monet, loosey-goosey and happy. I'm not enthralled with the whole painting, but inches away from all those flecked-paint gooses and their splashings, in just the right places broken into the perfect colors, thrills me. I love looking at the dancing paint in the detail. It's got a beat. I'm dancing.
Impressionism was born at least two years before. Not this painting — the first Impressionist painting was actually called that by a rude critic who despised it [story below]. And that piece is not in this show, which is called The Age Of, not what could have been a far more fascinating, The Birth Of.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir Self-Portrait detail 1875 oil on canvas 15.38 x 12.38 inches
Despite the splatter of specular highlights on his forehead and eyes, which I didn't notice till too late later — our eyes adjust to bright, reflective gallery lighting; cameras don't — I love this close-up of the early Renoir Self-Portrait. To its right was another he did 25 years later, of an almost smoothed-over, elder artist, not nearly so defiant. But this shocked us with its slurry of thick, dark details. The over bright press kit image doesn't even hint at his densely self-reflective paint storm.
Anna said simply, "WOW!"
Pierre-Auguste Renoir Sunset detail 1879 or 1881 oil on canvas 18 x 24 inches
From across the gallery my blurry far vision let me hope this might be a Van Gogh, although apparently he's not French and more strictly Post- than Impressionist, and the most famous of Post Impressionists is not included here.
The curators talked long about this and the similarly loose and impressionistic 1872 Claude Monet Impression, Sunrise [not in this collection] that showed in the first independent art show of the group that only later became known as the Impressionists, named after the initially sardonic term introduced in Parisian art critic Louis Leroy's savage April 25 1874 review in Le Charivari of that other work:
"A catastrophe seemed to me imminent, and it was reserved to M. Monet to contribute the last straw. ... What does the canvas depict? Look at the catalogue.
Impression — I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it ... and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape."
from Wikipedia and Painting.about.com
Jean-Léon Gérome The Snake Charmer 1879 oil on canvas 33.38 x 47.63 inches
"Interesting story about [Alfred Corning] Clark paying only $500 for it," Anna remembers. From a time when other pieces in this show were going for tens of thousands — even though Clark's father had originally bought the piece for $19,500 in 1888. In 1899 his widow deaccessioned it, then Alfred's son Sterling missed it and bought it back for $500.
This painting's lengthy and detailed sales history appears in a 2010 Los Angeles Times story by Jori Finkel, The Snake Charmer: A Twisted History.
A naked little boy with a big snake, in a wholly made-up painting, its diverse parts pieced together into a work overflowing with what the curators called "offensive racial stereotypes," yet 133 years later, we tend to see it as a realistic scene with pre-impressionist overtones. It has its merits, great depth, gorgeous color and fascinating characters, not the least of whom are the otherwise naked kid and the snake.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir Sleeping Girl 1880 oil on canvas 47.2 x 23 inches
Anna calls this the "Star of the show," saying, "I'm partial to this one, because of the stockings and the cat. Also, that it conveys the special feeling of love and trust."
I like it for its gentle sensuality and otherwise utter ordinariness — a model "identified as a young girl from Montmarte ... known for her many lovers and colorful slang" [according to the I.D next to the painting] resting in the studio, and the artist taking subtle visual advantage and painterly liberties with her dress. The socks are perfect, stripey in the shadows. Of course it's real.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir Onions 1881 oil on canvas 15.38 x 23.88 inches
"My favorite!" says Anna.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir Onions detail 1881 oil on canvas 15.38 x 23.88 inches
I like the people pictures better, but am fascinated how this squiggly clump of quick, informal stipples that with just a little distance, renders such a perfectly ordinary clove of garlic.
Berthe Morisot The Bath (Girl Arranging Her Hair) detail 1885-86 oil on canvas 36.25 x 28.88 inches
Says Anna, "I looked at this one for awhile, went to the next one, then came back and looked longer, taking in the fragility and movement."
I am amazed by the lively dance of paint, patterns and color splotches we hardly notice from the usual, stand back in awe, viewing distance. A popular favorite, there were postcards of this painting in the gift shop. Images so small and overexposed, all one could see is that she's a pretty girl with her arms up. Gone most of the personality, joy and sweetness.
Claude Monet Tulip Fields at Sassenheim, near Leiden detail 1886 oil on canvas 23.5 x 28.75
"Tulips, my favorite flower, in vivid ripples of colors, inviting me to come pick all I can carry." Anna says. I am delighted by the bold smears of color that from farther away almost render rows of realistic fields, flowers, trees and a dark red house.
Eugéne Boudin Boats Returning to Port, Trouville detail 1894 oil on canvas 25.88 x 26.25 inches
Anna says, "I can feel the excitement and the danger." I like looking at the glory of impassioned splashing, white waves up close yielding a tremendous sense of depth against a faraway sky melting with the subtle colors of storm.
Paul Gauguin Young Christian Girl 1894 oil on canvas 25.75 x 25.75 inches
The title has its sarcasm, and the pose is a little too pat, but I love that yellow dress glowing against all those weird colors and shapes. The I.D says the dress "was modeled on those that Christian missionaries gave to South Seas Islanders." Then the logic leaps into "the painting became, therefore, a depiction of the girl's sincere faith, subtly tinged with Gauguin's skepticism of organized religion."
Maybe. But I'm thinking Gauguin, who liked long involved plots, was back in France using local models, but the subject was strictly South Sea Islands with missionaries transforming native girls into religious zombies. If I knew what was going on in the background — what is all that spotted purple? Wings? — I might twig it all out. But that yellow dress was so compelling, I barely remember anything else in the Post-Impressionism wing.
Anna said she could not "get past the thought that the girl resembled Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary."
The DallasArtsRvue Arts Calendar lists every Dallas artist in every show — not just the art stars.
See also J R's extensive How to Photograph Art.