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TFAM shows impressionist masterpieces from Manet to Picasso

TFAM shows impressionist masterpieces from Manet to PicassoThe Taipei Fine Arts Museum is holding a special exhibition of 58 outstanding works from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This exhibition running through September 26 will provide art lovers with a glimpse into the significant artistic development in Europe and the U.S between the 19th and 20th centuries.

Both museums had decided on the selection of art works early last year. The exhibition, according to the TFAM’s acting director Chen Wen-ling, represented the first collaboration and vital cultural exchange between Taiwan and the U.S.

Founded in 1876 and considered one of the largest art museums in the U.S., the Philadelphia Museum of Art houses more than 225,000 works of fine and decorative arts from around the world, and is renowned for its rich collection of landscapes, portraits and figure studies by the most celebrated French Impressionist and Post-impressionist painters, including Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin.

This showcase -- Manet to Picasso: Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art -- features 53 oil paintings and 5 bronze sculptures by 33 artists, such as Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Auguste Rodin, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani, Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Georgia O’Keeffe and Pablo Picasso.

Landscape paintings

Prior to Impressionism, painting motifs included historical subjects, religious figures and portraits such as emperors and nobles, but excluded landscape, life or ordinary people. Artists had to conceal their personality and emotions by conservative colors and suppressed brushstrokes.

The Grands Boulevards by Pierre-Auguste Renoir(PHOTO COURTESY OF TFAM)In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, the avant-garde artists viewed their inner desires as the essence of modern art. They also advocated that art should advance with the times. As a result, they used innovative techniques and new styles to depict their observations and modern city life.

Manet, one of the late 19th-century artists to approach modern-life subjects, played a vital role in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. As most artists stuck to classical values, he instead used loose, bold brushstrokes to present a naked Parisian woman, thereby laying the foundations for modern art.

Monet completed his work (Impression, Sunrise) in 1872. But his painting provoked one critic Louis Leroy to coin the term “Impressionism” in a satiric review published in Le Charivari, a French newspaper. This art movement was also despised as a laughing stock by the academia of that time. Despite the ridicule, it became popular in the art market through the efforts of the Barbizon school and the realists.

Discarding the picturesque, religious or idealized notions of nature, impressionist painters focused on the changeable scenery. Monet, Renoir and their contemporaries, for example, chose the scenes of leisure and travel, especially a stroll in a city.

Renoir drew inspiration from ordinary people’s urban, suburban and rural lives in Paris. His painting, The Grands Boulevards, depicts one of the widest roads cutting through the heart of the city. Uniform stone facades along this boulevard were built in the 1850s and 1860s by a town planner Baron Georges Eugene Haussmann, who successfully transformed Paris into a modern metropolis.

In his painting, Renoir conveyed the hustle and bustle of the modern city, filling his canvas with traffic and commerce. The shadows of people on the street also shimmered in the sunlight through treetops.

L'Île Lacroix, Rouen (The Effect of Fog) by Camille Pissarro(PHOTO COURTESY OF TFAM)As the oldest of the artists who presented their works in the final impressionist exhibition held in 1886, Pissarro decided to add some fresh ideas to his creation because he met a young artist Georges Seurat, who developed pointillism -- a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of pure colors are used to form a pattern or an image, thereby showing the contrast through color spots.

Attracted by the pointillist style, Pissarro applied this new method to his works for four years in the late 1880s. He made a series of drawings, etchings and oil paintings as he visited Rouen, on the bank of the Seine River in northern France, in 1883. One of his canvases, L'Île Lacroix, Rouen (The Effect of Fog), expresses an industrial landscape with smoke from a factory chimney and with a boat on the river.

In these impressionist paintings at the Taipei-based museum, viewers can notice obvious changes in colors of water, clouds, fogs, mists and rays of light. Of all the impressionists in Bougival, on the bank of the Seine River, Sisley showed particular interest in depicting the seasonal changes in color and light.

Varied female images

Portrait of Emilie Ambre as Carmen by Edouard Manet(PHOTO COURTESY OF TFAM)Portraits of women account for 38 percent of displayed pieces in this exhibition. These works showcase diverse female images from the impressionist artists’ perspectives.

As Impressionism rose to prominence, France saw the first meeting of the Women’s Rights Congress and female students’ admission to public schools. As a result, modern women in these impressionist paintings are very active in outdoor and cultural activities. The settings for daily life were expanded into scenic spots, beaches, horse races, cafes, concerts and theaters.

A celebrity Emilie Ambre from a wealthy North African family was a mistress of King William III of the Netherlands prior to her career as an opera singer. Manet met her in the summer of 1897 at a spa outside Paris where he sought treatment for a nagging pain in his leg.

The Ballet Class by Edgar Degas(PHOTO COURTESY OF TFAM)In Manet’s portrait, the singer appears in Spanish costume as Carmen, the gypsy heroine of Georges Bizet’s opera. The dark, plain background in this picture suggests a stage setting. Her clothing and a fan in her left hand were rapidly drawn in broad, assured brushstrokes of Manet’s signature.

Degas has been well-known for his depictions of Parisian ballet dancers in the 19th century. One of his works, The Ballet Class, appears to capture a casual scene of dancers practicing under the watchful eyes of their instructor. But each detail in this painting comes from Degas’ sophisticated arrangement because X-rays have shown that he had reworked and refined the composition, such as a seated chaperone in blue dress, one figure that he originally drew a seated dancer adjusting her ballet shoes.

Portrait of Mademoiselle Legrand by Pierre-Auguste Renoir(PHOTO COURTESY OF TFAM)Another charming portrait of eight-year-old Adelphine Legrand was one of Renoir’s early works. At that time, he depended on portrait commissions to support himself and to build his reputation. With clasped hands and a hesitant expression on her face, the young girl standing in front of the painter seemed to seek support and encouragement from someone else.

Set in a sparsely decorated room, this portrait is presented with details such as strong, rich colors and wet brushstrokes of her black jumper, a blue scarf knotted around her neck, and a green curtain behind her. A gold locket unevenly hanging around her neck appears to be just pulled out from her pinafore.

Woman and Children by Pablo Picasso(PHOTO COURTESY OF TFAM)During his later years, Picasso increased his artistic production. One painting, Woman and Children, was an excellent example of his late works. He used fluid brushstrokes, splashes of vibrant pastels, and flesh tones to depict the intimacy between a mother and a child, one motif that he repeated in his career.

On this canvas, Picasso painted his new wife Jacqueline Roque, flanked by two children who could be identified as Paloma Picasso, left, the artist’s 12-year-old daughter from his earlier relationship with Francoise Gilot, and Cathy, Roque’s 15-year-old daughter from her earlier marriage. This portrait symbolizes two-family union.

Date: June 26 - September 26
Open hours: 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Mondays to Sundays, 9:30 a.m. - 8:30 p.m. Saturdays
Venue: 3F, Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Phone: (02) 2595-7656