Thursday, November 29, 2012

Montreal Impressions: Art

ONCE UPON A TIME... IMPRESSIONISM (although on the website they spell it with two "n"s)
October 13, 2012 to January 20, 2013

In a long line of fabulously wealthy Americans amassing art, Sterling Clark and his French actress wife, Francine, amassed a remarkable collection, and - while their Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachussetts undergoes expansion work - 74 of the paintings are touring Asia, Europe and, in its only Canadian stop, Montreal, at the Museum of Fine Art.

I'm not a particular fan of Impressionism, nor of the big shows, but my last experience here was so excellent, I thought I'd give it a go.

From the website:

"Seventy-four paintings by Bonnard, Corot, Degas, Gauguin, Manet, Millet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Sisley and Toulouse-Lautrec, including a selection of twenty-one outstanding canvases by Renoir, and the Degas sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (on view exclusively in Montreal) will be shown at the MMFA. The inclusion of academic works by Bouguereau, Gérôme and Stevens, among others, will enable visitors to see how the new ‘modernism’ challenged official painting.”
I was a bit taken aback when I got into the ticket line when a friendly volunteer informed me that there were no timed tickets, so there seemed to be no control as to how many people toured the venue at any one time. I don't know if it's a Montreal thing, but everything seemed to flow well. I still spentt most of the time ducking, bobbing, weaving, and apologizing as I listened to the excellent audio guide. But the exhibit was excellent.

The canvasses were stunning. There is that faint surprise when you see a picture you've viewed many times or on tea towels or postcards suddenly loom large and in living colour before you. It was Rousseau's Farm in the Landes (1844 - 67) that brought tears to my eyes. Of course, it's riddled with trees, which are pretty much my favourite thing in the whole world. The life in the painting and the obvious devotion he poured into it over 20 years is palpable.

Anything with trees in it captivated me, like Monet's Geese in the Brook (1874).

I learned that Renoir's A Box at the Theater (At the Concert) (1880) originally had a male figure standing to the right behind the young ladies. Apparently you can still see his form somewhat in the red curtain backdrop. I can't.

But I love the contrasts in black and white, in sauciness and demureness, and how the younger girl's nose seems to be coming in dangerous collision with the other lady's elbow.

The rebellious Impressionists are now achingly mainstream. But an exhibition like this, excellently laid out, lit, paced... dispells the chocolate box overkill and instilled in me a renewed awe for some of our greatest artists.

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