Monday, June 17, 2013

Renoir to Chagall: Paris and the Allure of Color

Renoir to Chagall: Paris and the Allure of Color showcases 49 masterpieces from the renowned collection of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee. The exhibition explores how Paris emerged as the center of the art world in the nineteenth century, attracting and inspiring the greatest painters of the era, including the well-known leaders of French Impressionism. Opening June 8, 2013 at Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, NE), the exhibition continues through September 1.

Renoir to Chagall: Paris and the Allure of Color has been organized by the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, in association with The Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY, where it was on display until May 6, 2013.

Renoir to Chagall: Paris and the Allure of Color presents an extraordinary exhibition of modern French masters featuring 55 paintings from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, TN and nearly 30 works from Speed’s collection and public and private collections throughout Kentucky.

This major exhibition features French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, as well as key artists who came immediately before and after them. Among the who’s who of painters included in the exhibition are Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Braque, and Marc Chagall. Renoir to Chagall demonstrates how Paris as the art capital of the Western world, produced and attracted artists of great accomplishment.

On view are portraits, scenes of daily life, still lifes, landscapes, interiors, and the fascinating worlds of the ballet, cafés, boulevards, and other aspects of modern city life that made Paris a magnet for artists. The diverse subjects and styles of the magnificent works in this exhibition will illustrate the critical developments in French painting during this period that profoundly changed the direction of modern art. While the Impressionists experimented with color and light effects to capture the fleeting sensations of reality, the Post-Impressionists loosened ties to realism altogether by emphasizing abstract elements of form and color, and occasionally the inner world of feelings and emotions.

Under Emperor Napoleon III, Paris was transformed between 1853 and 1870, as crowded neighborhoods and narrow streets were demolished to make way for grand boulevards, public gardens, and striking new buildings. Energized by a growing population and rising prosperity, the renewed city also attracted the most important artists of the time, who came to define the modern era. In 1874, a group of young painters, including Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, and Berthe Morisot, organized an exhibition independent of the official salon. Together, they became known by the critics as “Impressionists,” so named for work that appeared to capture not only its subject, but the artist’s sensation of it as well. Often painting en plein air, or out of doors, their style is characterized by quick, staccato brushwork and unblended paint mixed directly on the canvas itself, creating shape and volume through the contrast of colors. Their subjects ranged widely, from the seacoast and rural landscapes to grand vistas of the city to people engaged in contemporary pursuits, whether socializing in a café, attending the ballet, or leisurely strolling the Parisian streets.

The Impressionists, in turn, inspired further generations of avant-garde artists, including Neo-Impressionists like George Seurat; Henri Matisse and the Fauves’ bold use of color; George Braque’s experiments with Cubist structure; and Marc Chagall’s lyrical allegories. Through the eyes of these artists, viewers not only see the enchantment of the ”City of Light” and the French countryside, but also the inspiration and foundation of the most important artistic movements of the twentieth century.

Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926), Port of Dieppe, Evening, 1882, oil on canvas, Collection of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Gift of Montgomery H. W. Ritchie, 1996.2.7

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917,) Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe, 1885. Charcoal and pastel on paper Collection of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Hugo N. Dixon.


The styles may differ from artist to artist, but each contributes to the distinct characteristics of the Impressionist movement. The long, thin brushstrokes of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec captures the indifferent gaze of a seated dancer.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Dancer Seated on a Pink Divan, about 1883.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir applies thick layers of paint to canvas in order to illustrate the forceful and choppy movement of a rogue wave.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The Wave, 1882.

Camille Pissarro foreshadows Pointillism and uses small patches of pure colors to recreate the scene of a small orchard as viewed from his studio window.

Camille Pissarro. View from the Artist's Studio at Éragny, 1894

(images added)

Highlights of the Exhibition

Portraits and figure paintings represented include works such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s enchanting oil portrait of one of his three sons, created during the 1890s when he found the greatest inspiration for his paintings in his family and their activities. An equally personal portrait is

Mary Cassatt’s The Visitor,

depicting her sister Lydia, who was one of her favorite models.

Painted in about 1880, the year after Cassatt first exhibited with the Impressionists, the portrait demonstrates her remarkably free, uninhibited brushwork.

Scenes of late nineteenth-century Parisian nightlife and popular entertainment figure prominently in Renoir to Chagall. A gallery devoted to paintings and pastels of the Paris ballet and its dancers will delight visitors of all ages. The centerpiece is Degas’ Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe (1885), which shows the artist at the height of his career, masterfully wielding charcoal and glowing pastel to capture the spontaneous movement of a young dancer leaning over to adjust her slipper. One of the pioneering Impressionists of the 1870s, Degas sought artistic inspiration in the urban entertainments of Paris, particularly the ballet. He introduced his friend and protégé Jean-Louis Forain to the ballet in the mid 1870s.

Evening at the Opera (ca. 1879) is one of two fan-shaped paintings in the exhibition, a pictorial form that came into vogue in France during the 1870s as part of the mania for all things Japanese. The influence of both Degas and Forain can be seen in the subject and the rapidly executed style of

Dancer Seated on a Pink Divan (ca.1883) by the twenty-year-old Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Many artists in this exhibition explored still life, and some redefined it. Among those represented in the exhibition include two brilliantly colored canvases by Marc Chagall depicting dream-like scenes of brides and grooms with still lifes of flowers and fruit, both symbols of abundance and fertility, traditional wishes for newly married couples.

Other artists turned repeatedly to the landscape and seashore for inspiration. Paul Gauguin, already a member of the Impressionist circle, painted

Bathing in Front of the Port Pont-Avenin Brittany

during the summer of 1886. The work’s soft lighting and broken brushwork are typical of Gauguin’s Impressionist approach.

The exhibition comes to a fitting finale with scenes of Paris, the city that nurtured and inspired so many of the artists in this exhibition. Among the outstanding paintings in this section are Jean-François Raffaelli’s The Place d’Italie, after the Rain (1877) and Pierre-Albert Marquet’s luminous Point of Ile St. Louis (1928).

The Premiere of a New Acquisition

Renoir to Chagall: Paris and the Allure of Color
will also be the premiere of the Speed’s newest acquisition

The Pont des Saints-Pères, Paris (1870) by Henri-Joseph Harpignies.

This striking composition presents a view from the Tuilleries Gardens to the Saints-Pères Bridge that spanned the Seine River and beyond to the distant dome of the Institut de France. The foreground trees serve as a framing device to lead the viewer’s eye into the picture’s luminous middle ground of gleaming water and light reflecting on the people and carriages crossing the bridge.