“Millet to Matisse: Nineteenth and Twentieth Century French Painting from Kelvingrove… “Millet to Matisse: Nineteenth and Twentieth Century French Painting from Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow”
Through May 25
The Frick Art Museum at the Frick ‘ Historical Center
7227 Reynolds St.
If you wanted to be a great artist in the 18th century, it was recommended that you make the “Grand Tour” to study the Classics, to assimilate the preferred aesthetic found in ancient ruins and frescoes that 18th century scholar Johann Joachim Winckelmann described as “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur.”
But in the 19th century, if you wanted to be a great artist, you stayed at home – if you were French. Painters in 19th-century France began to depart from the Academie des Beaux Arts’ rigid standards for acceptable art. Many painters no longer could be satisfied to stage mythological, religious or historical dramas on canvases, but instead preferred to go outside and paint from direct observation of the world. The break from tradition marked the beginnings of modern art in the early 20th century.
“Millet to Matisse: Nineteenth and Twentieth Century French Painting from Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow” is a great exhibit to go to and learn about this history and offers a rare opportunity to see early, innovative works by celebrated painters – including Monet, van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin and Picasso – without having to make a “Grand Tour.” The 64 works in this traveling exhibition are owned by the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, a part of the Glasgow Museums in Scotland. The paintings are part of a larger collection of 19th- and 20th-century French painting that grew in Glasgow at that time as its industrial economy prospered. Much as Pittsburgh’s Frick family acquired art purchased with its steel fortune, Glasgow’s textile and shipping magnates collected contemporary French art that was later donated to the Kelvingrove.
Thematically organized into examinations of the artists’ approaches to landscape, figures out-of-doors, seascape, portraiture, viewpoint and still life, the exhibition traces developments in the technique and composition used to portray each kind of subject. It also reveals and discusses the influence that emerging scientific color theory had on the painters, as well as the painters’ influences on one another.
Leon Lhermitte’s “Ploughing with Oxen” is one work in the exhibition that strongly reflects the Realism movement begun by artists from the Barbizon School around 1830. These artists chose to depict peasants and the countryside they observed in their works. Around 1871, Lhermitte painted his subjects, two men ploughing the field with a pair of oxen, in a figural, classic style. The horizontal line of the expansive but simple background of the dark green field and the sky, full of atmospheric detail, emphasizes the presence of the well-modeled figures at work. Expressions are not revealed as the figures appear partially turned toward the horizon line behind them in slow, forward motion, repeating the line of the horizon.
Many works from all of the themes organized in the exhibition represent the Impressionist movement. Artists such as Claude Monet, Camille Pisarro and Pierre Auguste Renoir painted many different glimpses of contemporary life that they directly observed outdoors. The Impressionist painters experimented greatly with techniques of painting and were not afraid to show fluid, heavy brushstrokes to better capture the fleeting moments they observed in bustling motion in the city or sunlight reflecting onto a spring garden or pond.
Van Gogh’s rapid integration of Impressionist techniques during his early years in Paris is seen in the collection in “The Blute-Fin Windmill, Montmartre.” He completed the work not long after he arrived in Paris in March of 1886 to ambitiously study contemporary painting. The lighter palette and broad, heavy brushstrokes contrast sharply with the somber earth tones and illustrative techniques he had previously used. His desire to experiment more with color, which slowly began while he studied in The Hague, surfaced more fully during his first spring painting in Paris.
Van Gogh and many others’ experimentation with color continued beyond the Impressionist era. After the mid-1880s, color became an important tool of expression for the avant-garde painters in France who became less interested in new ways to depict physical reality than in expressing inner places.
Although many would have considered “The Seine at Paris” garish at the time it was painted by Othon Friesz around 1900, the artist’s bright palette of pure blues, whites, yellows, oranges and reds evokes an exciting energy associated with a well-lit water front rippling in a festive, busy city in the evening. Friesz’s asymmetrical composition of a view looking down upon the Seine River is made from fluid, heavy brushstrokes predominantly in blue balanced by dabs of bright, warm colors suggesting lamps and lanterns. The river diagonally dominates the picture and provides a canvas for the reflection of surrounding bright lights.
This and many other unique works created during the impressionist, post-impressionist and modern painting movements can be seen at the Frick through May 25. To accompany this comprehensive exhibition, which was organized by the American Federation of Arts and Glasgow Museums, a variety of educational programs have been scheduled in conjunction with it.
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