Revolution is the subject of an expansive new exhibition at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, but there’s not a battle scene in site.
|The works of Impressionists like Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Forain, Cézanne, Cassatt, Sargent, Hassam and Beaux come alive at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. (Photos: Courtesy of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art)|
“Monet to Cézanne/Cassatt to Sargent: The Impressionist Revolution” will survey the works of some 40 painters, both French and American, who defied the conventions of their time and led art into a new era.
“(Impressionists) wanted to celebrate the modern world, what it was, the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Stanton Thomas, the Brooks’ curator of European and decorative arts.
If that sounds all too familiar in the modern art of today, Thomas said it’s necessary to consider the popular schools of art pre-Impressionism. To that end, the exhibition, which includes about 100 paintings, opens with a gallery of European salon paintings featuring very academic compositions: royalty and nobility, religious and mythological works, and other set subjects painted in smooth, glassy surfaces of color.
The Impressionists instead focused on the world around and everyday people living ordinary lives.
Claude Monet’s “Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil,” shows a simple waterscape with small boats barely visible against a bank illuminated by orange and gold, autumnal trees – the kind of scene peasants might have enjoyed while fishing.
“This is one of the more important pieces,” said Thomas. “It’s 1873 and it’s one of the paintings (Monet) would have done on his boat. He had a special boat fitted up so he could be on the water and fully capture the movement of the water and the air and the wind.
“In organizing the show, landscapes are the things that are quintessentially Impressionist. They’re about light and air and spontaneity and about capturing that impression of what nature is and all its changes.”
But people were also important subjects for the Impressionists, though they were often nameless.
Edgar Degas’ “Study of Two Dancers” is a simple charcoal drawing of two incomplete figures in motion, both bending at the waist with partially covered faces. Rather than telling a story or expressing an emotion, the piece is simply a snapshot of life, which the artist clearly considered worthy of his time.
That sentiment quickly influenced American painters studying in France like Theodore Robinson, Mary Cassatt, and John Singer Sargent, all of whom are included in the exhibition. In one of Robinson’s pieces, a woman sits reading by a grassy country lane, almost blending into the greenery and dappled sunlight around her.
“(Robinson) eventually bought a house next door to Monet and worked with him,” said Thomas. “Then he came back to the United States and taught people to paint in the Impressionists mode. There’s this very important link between France and the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”
There’s also an important link between the Brooks’ exhibition and another Impressionist exhibition focusing on Jean-Louis Forain, already showing at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. The Dixon loaned 15 paintings from its permanent collection to the Brooks, and the two museums have collaborated to make tickets to either exhibition good for both.
The majority of the paintings are on loan from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. About 25 are from the Brooks’ permanent collection. The Brooks’ exhibition ends with a look at post-Impressionism, which includes one of the most recognizable works of the era, Monet’s “Houses of Parliament in Fog.”