Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Women Impressionist Exhibition At The Legion Of Honor

Left: Julie Rêveuse
1894; "Julie Daydreaming"; Private collection. The model is her daughter Julie.

A wonderful time viewing the exhibit: "Women Impressionists: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès, Marie Bracquemond". (Here's a nice article on the exhibition in the San Francisco Sentinel.)

Since I rarely go to museums, this exhibit struck me quite forecfully. One thing that images can't quite convey is the luminosity of a lot of Impressionistic painting - you have to see the painting in person to get the full effect. It's amazing to note that the Impressionistic glow is a painstakingly-planned effect - it doesn't just happen by accident.

Because Mary Cassatt is apparently the most famous of the bunch, they arranged the tour so her paintings are viewed last. But then that just means the biggest emotional impact goes to those paintings viewed first - namely, those of Berthe Morisot.

We obtained little headsets, into which we could punch numerical codes every fifth or sixth painting and hear a synopsis of the painting's history and salient features. These little summaries were pretty terse, however (no doubt to help accelerate visitors through the gallery), and I yearned for something else: namely an art expert, who could rapidly and intelligently reveal the universes of experience and emotion behind each painting.

Lo! And behold! An art expert with a gaggle of acolytes caught up to us in the Marie Bracquemond gallery, and I thought "This is great!" Then she started speaking:
Some people complain that, with the Women Impressionists, it's all about autobiography. Other art critics take offense, however, and note that it's not about autobiography at all. Truth is, with the Women Impressionists, it's a little about autobiography.
My eyes rolled back in my head - this level of art sophistication was clearly well above my class and education. I started fiddling again with headset trying to find another frequency.

Wonderful, wonderful exhibit! My only complaint was that 2.5 hours was too brief a time with these paintings. Here is a quick summary:
Each section of Women Impressionists serves as an individual retrospective for one of the four artists. Gonzalès, who died prematurely in childbirth, and Bracquemond, who stopped painting due to the discouragement of her husband, each have a smaller body of work in the exhibition; for many visitors, this will be an introduction to these artists.

Berthe Morisot (1841–1895): Women Impressionists presents over 60 examples of Morisot’s works, including oil paintings, drawings, and pastels. Morisot was the only woman to exhibit in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, and she became one of the most prolific members of the Impressionist circle.

Mary Cassatt (1844–1926): Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cassatt was the only American member of the Impressionist circle. Women Impressionists features over 35 works by Cassatt, including examples of her oil paintings, pastels, and prints.

Eva Gonzalès (1849–1883): The only formal pupil of Edouard Manet, Gonzalès became known for her characteristic style of portraiture and her use of subtle emotion and richness of detail in her works. This exhibition presents approximately 15 works by Gonzalès, including the finest examples of her oil paintings and pastels.

Marie Bracquemond (1840–1916): Women Impressionists marks the most comprehensive exhibition of Marie Bracquemond’s work since a 1919 retrospective organized by her son Pierre at a Paris gallery. The exhibition features approximately 20 works by Bracquemond, including watercolors, drawings, and oil paintings.

Left: Mary Cassatt, American (1844–1926) Visitor in Hat and Coat Holding a Maltese dog, ca. 1879 Oil on canvas. Private Collection

Left: Eva Gonzalès, French (1849–1883) A Loge in the Théâtre des Italiens, 1874 Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Gift of Jean Guérard, the artist’s son, 1927.

Below: A Marie Bracquemond painting where the glow just leaps out at you!

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