Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Agrarian Ideal: Monet, van Gogh, Homer, and More

Chrysler Museum of Art Norfolk VA
Oct. 7, 2016 through Jan. 8, 2017

Claude Monet's Haystacks, Late Summer, on loan from the renowned Musee d'Orsay in Paris, the world's premier museum of Impressionist art. will be on view alongside 21 Chrysler Collection treasures by Winslow Homer, Paul Gauguin, and Camille Pissarro, and others. The works include paintings on agricultural themes, sculptures, detailed drawings, early photographs, and Impressionist masterworks known for their evocation of light.

While the Impressionists are famous for scenes of Paris, in the 1890s many of them departed the city for the country. As Paris had become dangerous, crowded, industrial, and expensive, many of the city's best artists left to seek simpler subjects and an integrated life untouched by the ills of modernity.

Claude Monet, View of Vernon, oil on canvas, 1886. Chrysler Museum Collection

Claude Monet relished living in Giverny, 45 miles northwest of Paris. There, he captured the effects of changing light and weather on huge stacks in the fields near his home. Farmers in this part of France regularly stored the year's crop of wheat in stacks that they left in the field, as they had for centuries. Between July 1890 through the following spring and summer, the artist completed more than 30 paintings featuring the subject. "Creating a shimmering surface with strokes of pure paint, Monet sought to capture the instant effects of light at their most evocative," DeWitt said of Musee d'Orsay's acclaimed canvas from late summer 1891.

Enriching this exhibition is Vincent Van Gogh's dramatic Wheat Field behind St. Paul's Hospital, St. Remy, a generous loan from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

Vincent van Gogh also headed to the country for solace. His Wheat Field (from the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) shows the view he painted many times from his window in the psychiatric hospital in St. Rémy. "With its dramatic sky" DeWitt said, "it embodies the visionary approach he developed towards the end of his life."

Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910) “Farmer with a Pitchfork, ca. 1874; oil on board; promised gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Batten to the Chrysler Museum of Art (Courtesy: Chrysler Museum of Art)

On this side of the Atlantic, Winslow Homer and a number of American artists also sought out country life in the wake of the Civil War, echoing Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in Notes on Virginia: "Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue."

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