Friday, 1 August 2014

American Impressionism

As the sun has deserted us here at Macbiehill (hopefully temporarily) I decided to go and search it out and I knew exactly where. At the American Impressionism exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. The first thing I spotted on arrival and located in a nearby field was the above message that "There will be no miracles here" . Well, they got that wrong. There were miracles aplenty to be found inside the gallery.
I always assume photography won't be allowed at such shows to encourage people to buy the catalogue. Something that I always do in any case as the photography in such books is usually immensely better than what can be achieved in  gallery rooms. I then discovered that my very favourite piece in the exhibition wasn't in the catalogue (more about that painting later) and gathered my courage and inquired if photography was permitted. To my great surprise and delight it was, as long as I left my flash off. I never  have it on in any case as this colour junkie likes to see things as they are.
Ironically as I returned home I realized that apart from one, all the pictures I had taken were of work by French artists rather than American ones. What a Continental I am, and will no doubt remain. However my excuse is that the American paintings were portrayed beautifully in the catalogue and were enough to remind me of that glory. I had pictured those paintings that touched my heart and soul in some way.

As I have mentioned here before I am a great admirer of the French Impressionist Berthe Morrisot, not least because she managed to be a professional woman artist in a time when that was still very unusual. There were two paintings by her in this show and I would gladly have paid the entrance fee (and a lot more) just to see those two with my own eyes. Above one of them called The Cheval Glass, 1876.
 It is seeing the details such as above which explains why such works need to be seen close-up. This picture explains the word Impressionism for these works so well. Exuberant paint strokes manage to convey the whole idea of a patterned sofa in a few fell swoops. They are made so confidently and full of joy.
By the way the blue lines are reflections as this painting is behind glass and I couldn't avoid capturing some reflections.
 A very different technique to that of Mary Cassatt (she definitely was American!) in the piece seen above called Young Girl at a Window, 1883/4. Mary exhibited with the Impressionists in Paris and was one of the American artists who brought the ideas of impressionism home to the US.
This is the other Berthe Morisot painting called A Woman and Child in a Garden c. 1883-4 and it features her young daughter Julie (with the boat) and her niece. This is a daring and unusual composition with that strong vertical slap bang almost in the middle of the painting. It works! I also loved the tree on the left with its myriad of different colours in the trunk. I could look at that for ages (and I did!).
Now for the painting that stole my heart the minute I saw it. The reason it isn't in the catalogue is that it is in the possession of the National Gallery itself and I'm guessing won't travel to the other venues this exhibition has been (Giverny) and will go to (Madrid). It is of course a Monet, called Poplars on the River Epte, 1891. It's part of a whole series of poplar paintings he made. Why do I love it so much? I could write a thousand words (or more!) here but I could probably still not make that clear even to myself.
So here are some details that might convey it much better. The painting seemed to vibrate with colour. The tones were high and clear, the colours capturing the essence of summer and sunshine as well as the movement of water.
Here you can see a bit of the texture and the brush strokes. I wondered if he finished this, then stood back and realized what he had done! Produced a masterpiece. Or was he like most artists and thought: "could have done this even better". This is one of the reasons artists work in series so maybe he was aiming for even more beauty. I however think this is it, the pinnacle of perfection. Standing in front of it (and you could get ever so close) there is a moment when you feel so connected to Monet when he was making it, following his hand as it moved over the canvas. That's why seeing art in books is nowhere near seeing it with your own eyes, up close and personal.
I had to sit down as I tend to get very emotional at such special moments. The above detail comes as close as I can come to showing you why.

The show is on till the 19th October so plenty of time yet (I might well return!) and also features the work of Whistler, Twachtman, Tarbell, John Singer Sargent, Theodore Robinson, Childe Hassam, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, William Merritt Chase and Frank Benson among others. All the paintings are fabulous to see and the entire exhibition seems to be bathed in endless sunshine, even those paintings which feature snow!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Monet is my all-time favourite picture. I was so pleased to see it when I went to the exhibition yesterday. Carol (TQ)

Leslie said...

Aren't they marvelous! A few years ago we went to the de Young in San Francisco and saw the visiting impressionists exhibit. I fell in love with John Singer Sargent there, but they were all lovely. And you're right - it's so amazing to see them in person, to see the brush strokes, and to realize that one person stood there with a palette of colors and turned them into magnificence.

Lenna Young Andrews said...

let's go together!!!!!!! : ) I would love to see this beautiful show, Frieda! xoxoxox

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