Impressions of Impressionists

Posted: February 27, 2011 in Art
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The Museum of Fine Arts Houston is one of the best places in the country. The permanent collection contains some truly magnificent masterpieces, and they routinely get some of the best traveling shows. They recently engaged an exhibition of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. This exhibit is only on display for a short time (it ends on May 23, 2011) so go see it as soon as you can. As an added incentive, this particular exhibition will not be shown anywhere else (not even in the National Gallery) as these works are normally scattered throughout the National Gallery, and not shown together.

This exhibition is possible because the National Gallery is undergoing renovation. Since many of these masterpieces were going to be put into storage, the MFAH (in collaboration with the National Gallery) arranged to house this unique exhibition during the renovations.

The exhibition features fifty different paintings by a variety of artists, including Édouard Manet,Mary CassattCamille PissarroClaude MonetPaul Cézanne with the centerpiece being a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh. Of course, there are a host of other artists represented as well, including Paul GauguinFrédéric BazilleEdgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that these works (though indeed masterpieces) do not represent the artists’ best work. For that, I’m told, one has to go the Barnes Foundation. The Foundation is not without controversy, however. It will be moving the galleries to Philadelphia at the end of this year (which will make the collection much more accessible to the public) against the expressed wishes of Dr. Barnes Indenture of Trust which created the Foundation. The Friends of the Barnes Foundataion have been opposing the move, as apparently the original galleries offered a truly unique artistic experience even prompting a bold statement from a bold man:

The Barnes Foundation is the only sane place to see art in America.” – Henri Matisse

I haven’t had the opportunity to go and see the Barnes Collection (which is supposedly valued in excess of twenty-five billion dollars (yes, billion, with a ‘b’). Based on my schedule, I doubt I will be able to see it in the original gallery, and will have to make do with seeing it in the new home in Philadelphia. I will, however, see about making time to watch the documentary: The Art of the Steal, which details the fight to break the conditions established in the Barnes Trust.

That said, the works in the MFAH exhibition are still absolutely amazing. The museum (for obvious reasons) prohibits photography of the gallery, so I don’t get to show you any photographs here. However, some of these paintings do have images available online. When possible, I’ll link to pictures on the web. Note that I have hotlinked these pictures since they aren’t actually mine. If the links break, let me know.

The exhibition makes the bold choice of exhibiting subjects that the artists are not normally known for, and juxtaposing them with the artists who are. For example, they show one of Renoir’s “Dancer” next to Degas’ “Woman Ironing.” We also see Monet’s depiction of sunflowers in “The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil contrasted with van Gogh’s depiction of haystacks in “Farmhouse in Provenance.”  I found myself wishing that I had the (perhaps more famous) other works to compare so I could explore the different master’s approaches to the subjects. The exhibition was that much more powerful as a result.

Regardless, it’s a unique, masterfully crafted exhibition of some of the truly great treasures of the National Gallery, and I was really grateful that I got to enjoy it with my partner. I recommend a trip to Houston to see this exhibition; it’s well worth the experience.

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