at Bunkamura Museum of Art
in the Shibuya area
This event has ended - (2006-01-02 - 2006-02-26)
If we have been truly moved, the sincerity of our emotion will pass unto others.” Although Corot is often considered a precursor to Impressionism, his quotation captures the essence of the Impressionist movement—a leap from the objective realism of mid-19th century painters who still ascribed to academic notions of “dignified” subject matter to a more subjective viewpoint concentrated on individual artistic representation, oftentimes depicting scenes from everyday life. In this exhibition, 84 works from the Impressionist collection of Hakone’s Pola Museum of Art are featured in four stages, lending historical cohesion to the Impressionist movement as a whole.
The first stage, Precursors to Impressionism, presents 27 pieces by Corot, Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, Eugene Boudin, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The collective motif found in these paintings and pastel sketches is a determination to portray reality in its truest form, not through heightened detail but through general contour and hue, accentuated by novel depictions of light and shadow in ways that deviated from former gentle gradation of tones that had effectively disrupted reality. For example, in Degas’s Two Dancers at Rest, strong and harsh contrasts between the dim background and the vibrant yellow and orange tutus reveal authentic depth and movement. The same effect can be seen in Renoir’s Girl in a Lace Hat, as the light radiantly bounces off the closest fragments of white cloth on the shirtsleeve and bonnet.
La Barque roseThe second stage, Impressionists and Pointillists, highlights 30 pieces by Alfred Sisley, Armand Guillaumin, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Henri-Edmond Cross, and Hippolyte Petitjean. Here one can find the representative landscapes that characterize much of the Impressionist movement. In these scenes the viewer experiences a sense of presence, as in Monet’s Houses of Parliament, Symphony in Rose, where the effect of sunlight plays through murky fog in muted shades of pink, lavender, and blue, allowing the humidity in the London air to be all but truly felt. Such trends facilitated a more scientific or mathematical take on color theory, yielding Pointillism, a technique that employs small dabs of uninterrupted color that are left to be blended by the viewer’s eye and mind. Yet to compensate for a decline in visible contour, Pointillists emphasized vertical and horizontal forms, creating new patterns of expression that can be seen in works like Seurat’s Boats, Low Tide, Grandcamp.
The third stage, Neo-Impressionists, displays 16 pieces by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh. Although the scope of achievements attained by these three men cannot be contained within the label of Neo-Impressionism – or any simple appellation for that matter – the Impressionist influence on their works is readily apparent. All three groped with the same questions and problems that had confronted their predecessors, such as how to simultaneously depict color and depth. Still, there was one significant digression in these works, and that was a willingness – and perhaps in van Gogh’s case an inclination – to sacrifice dimensional accuracy in lieu of the critical aim of each piece. Thus, natural representation gave way to personal endeavor and feeling, opening up a world of endless possibilities for artists in the 20th century. Perhaps this is why Cézanne is considered the father of ‘modern art.’ He was one of the initial progenitors of art for its own sake, fearless to deviate from the inadequacies of conventional techniques. Some highlights of this stage include van Gogh’s Flower Vase with Thistles, Gauguin’s Exotic Eve, and Cezanne’s Still Life with Bottle.
The fourth and final stage, Post-Impressionists, features 11 pieces by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Odilon Redon, Henri Le Sidaner, and Pierre Bonnard, the imminent heirs of everything the pioneering Neo-Impressionists had begun. In order to remain faithful to the exhibition’s focus, this stage naturally features the least number of works. Nevertheless, among them we find Redon’s Japanese Vase, illustrating the effervescent frenzy cropping up among Western artists of things Japanese, and Lautrec’s Three Roses, adding a perfect finishing touch to a thorough and methodical exhibition.