Brilliant, colorful paintings by the artists who revolutionized the art world will be showcased in Monet to Matisse: The Age of French Impressionism, on view through November 29 Utica’s Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute’s Museum of Art.
Monet to Matisse features more than 60 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and pastel drawings from the renowned collection of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee.
The exhibition includes landscapes, portraits, interiors, and still lifes by leaders of French Impressionism: Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley, as well as works by America’s noted Impressionist Mary Cassatt. Major paintings by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Georges Braque complete the exhibition.
In 1874, a group of young painters, including Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir, and others organized an exhibition independent of the official French salon, which did not approve of their new kind of painting. Called “Impressionists,” the artists were so named because their paintings appeared to capture a fleeting vision of light on a subject rather than the thing itself. Often working “en plein air,” or out of doors, Impressionism is characterized by quick brushwork and unblended paint applied directly to the canvas, creating shape and volume through the contrast of colors. Their subjects ranged widely, from seacoast and rural landscapes to scenes of Paris and its citizens, socializing in cafés, attending the ballet, or leisurely strolling the newly renovated city’s grand boulevards.
Monet to Matisse is an expansive view of 19th-century French painting and its influences. The exhibition is introduced by artworks from the Barbizon School, paintings by artists a generation older than the Impressionists. Noted for an emphasis on rural imagery, these canvases portray romantic peasants in the countryside and stunning natural scenes that became the material that Impressionist painters reacted against. The heart of the Monet to Matisse features leaders of Impressionism with paintings and pastels by Degas, Monet, Morisot, Forain, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Cassatt, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, among many others. The era’s themes of modernity are richly demonstrated through images of landscapes and travel, urban life, and portraiture.
The exhibition concludes with works by later generations of avant-garde artists whom the Impressionists inspired, including Post-Impressionists like Gauguin; Cézanne; Georges Seurat; Henri Matisse and the Fauves’ bold use of color; Georges Braque’s experiments with Cubist structure; Soutine’s expressionism; and Marc Chagall’s lyrical allegories.
MWPAI has organized Peasants and Parisians, a parallel exhibition drawn from the Museum’s extensive graphic arts holdings, with works by leading 19th-century French artists, including Cézanne, Honoré Daumier, Eugène Delacroix, Gauguin, Odilon Redon, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Edouard Vuillard. Featuring more than 70 works on paper, Peasants and Parisians will also showcase a recent gift of five Renoir etchings.
Most of the artists featured in the two exhibitions were part of a rich circle of intellectuals, writers, and musicians, including Charles Baudelaire, Emile Zola, Claude Debussy, and Erik Satie. Through the Museum’s audioguide and smartphone app, visitors will experience the music, dance, and literature that inspired Monet, Matisse, and other painters in the exhibition.
Through the eyes of the artists represented in Monet to Matisse and the dramatic paintings they created, viewers will 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 20th century.
General admission to the exhibition is $10; $5 for students; children 12 and younger are free. The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Art Museum is located at 310 Genesee Street in Utica.
Illustrations from above: Claude Monet’s “Port of Dieppe, Evening”; Pierre-August Renoir’s “Les Colettes”; and Edgar Degas’ “Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe”.