Friday, August 20, 2010
Birth of Impressionism at the deYoung
"Birth of Impressionism," a blockbuster exhibition of French paintings from the currently-being-remodeled Musee d'Orsay in Paris, is finishing up Part One of its residency in a couple of weeks at the de Young in Golden Gate Park.
The glowing reports in the media about the exhibit turn out to be true. It's beautifully installed, lit, and has an intelligent point of view that communicates itself through the art rather than a surfeit of signage. The only downside is that word is out and the exhibit space is "hellaciously crowded," as my friend Patrick Vaz puts it.
What's being demonstrated is primarily a technological shift, according to my painter friend David Barnard above. "When paint tubes were invented in the 1870s, it freed painters. They could leave the studio and get rid of the baggage of apprentices mixing their paints."
The exhibit is set up so you can literally see that transformation, starting with large allegorical Studio paintings, usually involving naked ladies, and ending with the Impressionists picturing the countryside and the urban world around them as if it were brand new. There are even a few paintings set in Parisian artist's studios, with friends and admirers hanging out while the artist works or shows off, and these take you completely into another place and time.
The exhibit is also a nice combination of famous paintings and ones you have never seen. I am happy to report that Whistler's "Arrangement in Gray and Black" aka "Whistler's Mother" is even better live than in reproduction. (The same is not true of a number of other famous paintings, i.e. the tiny, greenish "Mona Lisa.")
The crucial cusp of a painter in the migration from the Studio to en plain air is Manet, who gets a room of his own. The exhibition ends with a room of early Cezanne landscapes that are supersaturated with color and not as abstract as his later work. Alone, they're almost worth struggling through the madding crowds.