Time travel through France to Houston – MFAH’s new Impressionists exhibition takes you far from the everyday

ILooks like Santa Claus (or Father Christmas) came earlier this year to give something very special to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. It’s about traversing vast expanses of time and space to bring the MFAH a sleigh filled with magnificent works of art handcrafted in France.

Like a trip to Paris, the surprise of Santa Claus consists of an ephemeral experience, via the loan of a wonderful new French Impressionist exhibition. The joy evoked by a delicious sensual experience can be priceless, and its imprint can resonate a lifetime as Marcel Proust demonstrated so well with a cookie and a cup of tea in his classic novel. In Search of Lost Time.

Art lovers of all kinds will surely appreciate the recently inaugurated exhibition, aptly named “Unparalleled Impressionism of the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston” at the MFAH. The Houston Museum is the only place in the United States for this embarrassment of wealth, consisting of around a hundred paintings and important works on paper on loan until March 27 from the famous French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection of the Museum of Fine Boston Arts.

Browsing through the galleries of the exhibition, the viewer travels through time through scenes from the 19th and early 20th centuries of peaceful pastoral landscapes, elegant portraits, urban views of slices of life and lifelike still lifes, offering a focus on another world and a pleasant diversion from today’s turbulent headlines.

The sensitive touch and degree of attention to detail with each brushstroke is evident in the masterpieces bearing some of the most formidable Impressionist signatures – names like Eugène Boudin, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Pierre -Auguste Renoir. They populate a well-told story illustrating the evolution of the Impressionist movement from 1874, when a group of Parisian artists broke with the dominant formal academic style of painting inside the studio and began to present public exhibitions conveying their own unique impressions of what they saw around them in paintings done outdoors.

Claude Monet, Camille Monet and a Child in the Artist’s Garden at Argenteuil (1875), oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, anonymous gift in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin S. Webster. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / All rights reserved.

As we progress through the galleries, we can see and appreciate many landscape scenes that reflect the varying effects of natural light produced by the increasing use of the painting technique. outside (outside) by artists who were aided by new inventions like folding easels and tin tubes of prepared paint colors.

These images invite their viewers to enjoy a special intimacy and often a sense of nostalgia as we experience the impressions the artists felt when they presented their perspectives of scenes that struck them as singular in their time.

Impressionist wonders

We share the light cheerfulness of a carefree couple dancing together in the sweet and colorful “Danse à Bougival” (1883), located in a village near Paris. The young woman in the pretty scarlet beanie smiles, lowering her eyes quietly as her attentive dance partner seems to whisper something romantic in her ear. It’s a familiar scene, but these two dancers are so well represented, it feels like you know them or remember them and their contagious friendliness.

Smiles are also to burst under the masks on the faces of visitors as they enter a huge gallery and contemplate a treasure of 15 paintings by Impressionist master Claude Monet depicting his favorite sites, made over a period of 30 years, showing the immense magnitude of his Contributions to Impressionism.

There is also a group of still lifes by artists who make everyday objects like fruits so extraordinary, tempting and real that they practically spring from the canvas, like the delicious “Fruit and a Jug on a Table” by Paul. Cézanne (circa 1890-1894). Cézanne is quoted in the text on the wall as saying “I want to surprise Paris with an apple.” And that’s what he did, and not just Paris, but the world.

Cézanne, Fruits and Jug on a Table, c.  1890-94
Paul Cézanne, Fruit and a Cug on a Table (c. 1890-94), oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, bequest of John T. Spaulding. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / All rights reserved.

Elsewhere, Cézanne is quoted as having commented that “Pissarro was a father to me. He was a wise counselor and something like Almighty God. Cézanne learned a lot from the visits, painting alongside his older friend. The remarkable “Turn the road” by Cézanne (circa 1881) was painted at this time, the wall text tells us. In fact, Pissarro was an important mentor to many young artists who worked alongside him.

The exhibition also includes modern urban scenes painted by artists such as Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet. At the bend of a bend, one is taken aback by the haunting eyes and the pale face of Manet’s “Street singer” (1862), who has apparently just come out of a cafe. She looks a bit weary and distracted as she stops in the doorway, carrying her guitar and eating cherries from a paper cone, maybe thinking about her next impromptu performance and how much. , or little, it could bring.

Our encounter with her is real, as well as telescopic. We channel a moment that Manet lived on a street where he was walking near his studio in Paris and later reproduced with his favorite model, Victorine Meurent, replacing the woman he met. Thanks to Manet, we can also relive a fleeting moment during a trip to a foreign city like Paris where we meet a singer playing in the street, guitar case open on the ground, often holding only a handful of coins and small bills thrown away by tourists rushing to see a guide’s list of pre-established inanimate sights.

In the mural text, the writer Emile Zola (1840 to 1902) is quoted as commenting: “An image like this, beyond the subject, is enhanced by its very austerity; one feels the relentless search for the truth. Great praise indeed from the immortal French journalist and novelist who chronicled the often harsh realities of social change in his time, and was well known for his flawless newspaper article on the Dreyfus affair which was the source of division and which was titled “I ACKNOWLEDGE!” “

Artistic touches

The exhibition wall texts are exemplary in that they use directly relevant contextual information to put each painting into context, filling the frame for the viewer. The skillful use of artist quotes is particularly rewarding and informative.

Consider this explanatory quote on painting outside de Boudin, a marine painter who quickly became revered for his mastery of painting the sky in harbor and beach scenes: “Three brushstrokes directly from nature are worth more than two days of studio work. This comment must have been taken to heart by a multitude of artists, given the credibility that Boudin obtained from works which proved his point of view.

Speaking of giving credit where it’s due. This exhibition was curated by Katie Hanson, Curator of Paintings, European Art, and Julia Welch, Assistant Curator, European Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The presentation of “Incomparable Impressionism” at the MFAH was organized by the equally incomparable Helga Aurisch, Curator of European Art, who narrates a Vimeo slideshow on the MFAH exhibition website which will give you an excellent background of the exhibition before leaving.

An informative slide shows three paintings side by side, illustrating different perspectives of the Grand Canal in Venice by Renoir, Boudin and Monet, from 1881, 1891 and 1908 respectively. Thus, the observer can see how styles, views and techniques have changed over time.

Degas, At the races in the countryside, 1869
Edgar Degas, Races in the Country, 1869, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1931 Purchase Fund. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / All rights reserved.

The Impressionist and Post-Impressionist images in the exhibition are divided into nine thematic groups in galleries located on one side of the top floor of the Beck building. The visiting exhibit is lined up opposite the MFAH’s permanent – and exceptional – collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings that have become old friends for many Houstonians over the years, spurring continued interest in seeing and learning. more of the same.

Shows like this are especially welcome at a time when air travel has become increasingly difficult due to the pandemic. Through this traveling exhibition, at a time when a number of Houston art lovers (and Francophiles) may think that now is not the best time for them to fly to Paris to see the richness of the city. art of the City of Light, Paris came to them.

Visitors are reminded that “due to space limitations in this popular exhibit, masks are required for the safety of our guests and staff” and are encouraged to register online for tickets to the advance for one of the dates and time slots indicated as available on the exhibition site.

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