Wednesday 2 June 2021

French Impressionism Exhibition Opens at the National Gallery of Victoria

One of the highlights from the French Impressionism show, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's Carmen Gaudin in the artist's studio (1888). Cover picture: Claude Monet, Grand Canal, Venice (1908). Photographs: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 

Melbourne's extended lockdown delayed the opening of the National Gallery of Victoria's major new exhibition of French Impressionism from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts collection. Now launched, the show features works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and Mary Cassatt, including paintings that have never been exhibited in Australia, reports Isabelle Lante Della Rovere

Claude Monet, Camille Monet and 
a child in the artist's garden 
at Argenteuil (1875).
Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
BOSTON'S Museum of Fine Arts is well known for its rich holdings of Impressionist paintings. The loans for the National Gallery of Victoria's new show are from the American institution's celebrated collection and provide an opportunity to see many Impressionist masterpieces that have not been seen in Australia. 

Called French Impressionism, the exhibition will examine the late-nineteenth century artistic movement, highlighting the milestones and key figures at the centre of this period of experimentation and revolution in modern art. 

The display of more than one hundred paintings and works on paper showcases the breadth of the Impressionist movement and evokes the artistic energy and intellectual dynamism of the period. The show aims to present some of the thoughts and observations of the artists themselves and look at the social connections, artistic influences and personal relationships between them. 

 ‘Paintings by the Impressionists are beloved world-wide for the artistic innovation and visual curiosity they represent, as well as for their breath-taking use of colour,'' said Tony Ellwood, director of the National Gallery of Victoria. 

"This exhibition will give audiences the extraordinary opportunity to study more than 100 masterworks up-close, including Monet’s radiant scenes of the French countryside, and to discover the truly revolutionary origins of this important moment in modern art history. "

Paintings and works on paper showcase the breadth of the Impressionist movement and evoke its artistic energy and intellectual dynamism 

Claude Monet, Meadow with poplars (c.1875).
Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Presented thematically across ten sections, the exhibition will open with early works by Monet and his forebears, Eugène Boudin and painters of the Barbizon School, illustrating their influence on Monet’s use of the then radical method of painting outdoors en plein air (‘in the open air’) to capture changing conditions in nature. 

The growth of the movement is examined by exploring the key subjects and ideas of the Impressionists. 

"The Museum of Fine Arts' collection of Impressionist paintings has the unique capacity to narrate the history of French Impressionism with nuance, depth and flare,'' comments Tony Ellwood. "This is the first time the MFA Boston has lent such a large selection of works to Australia. A thematic presentation of this calibre and breadth will not be seen here again for many years." 

Designed as an immersive exhibition, the audience will be able to see the distinctive brushwork and use of colour along with places important to the artists, such as Paris, Fontainebleau Forest, Pontoise, Giverny, the Normandy coast and the South of France. Artists were also interested in exploring new ways of painting movement and the changes in urban and domestic settings at the end of the 19th century. Still life paintings, intimate interiors and street scenes by such artists as Manet, Renoir and Gustave Caillebotte are featured too. 

The broader themes of the exhibition are mixed with looking at how the artists work, including Renoir and his experimentation with pictorial effects in the 1880s, as well as Pissarro and his role as mentor to a number of other artists. 

"This is the first time the MFA Boston has lent lent so many works to Australia. A show of this calibre and breadth will not be seen here again for many years." 

Claude Monet, Water Lillies (1905).
Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
A highlight of the show are sixteen canvases by Claude Monet, curated like the dramatic gallery Monet helped design for his famous Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie, in Paris, between 1922 and 1926. 

Painted over a thirty-year period, these paintings depict many of Monet’s most beloved scenes of nature in Argenteuil, the Normandy and Mediterranean coast and his extraordinary garden in Giverny. Together, these paintings demonstrate the full scope of the artist’s contribution to the Impressionist movement. 

 MFA Boston’s collection of French Impressionism benefitted from the collecting efforts of individual Bostonians, some of whom visited the artists in France during the movement’s height. Mary Cassatt, an American-born artist integral to the French Impressionist movement and whose work is featured in the exhibition, encouraged fellow Americans to buy the works of her French colleagues, ensuring that many great Impressionist paintings found their way into important American collections. 

The Museum of Fine Arts was founded in 1870 and stands on the historic homelands of the Massachusett people, a site which has long served as a place of meeting and exchange among different nations. The museum finally opened its doors to the public in 1876 at its original location in Copley Square. 

A highlight of the show are sixteen canvases by Monet depicting his most beloved places in Argenteuil, his garden at Giverny and the Normandy coast

Vincent Van Gogh, Houses at Auvers (1890).
Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
In 1909, the MFA moved to its current home on Huntington Avenue. Today, the museum houses a collection of 500,000 works of art, from the ancient to contemporary. For the past fifty years, the museum has shared its remarkable collection and curatorial expertise with audiences around the world through traveling exhibitions.

"We are delighted to share these iconic works with the people of Australia, so that they may experience this transformational moment in the history of art," said Matthew Teitelbaum, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts. 

"French Impressionism highlights artists and their relationships, their shared ambition and mutual support, ideals that are reflected in our relationship with the National Gallery of Victoria," 

"Our mutual endeavor has been one of vision, creativity and collaboration. This exhibition is a joyous celebration of our connections and a reminder that individuals and institutions thrive through reciprocity and generosity. "
French Impressionism is open at the NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne, Australia. 

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