By Richard Sovitzky – Anglo American University
As the dull gloom of autumn sets in, the exhibit “French Impressionism, Masterpieces of the Odrupgaard Collection” offers a last chance to gaze back into summer with over sixty vibrant, light-filled paintings from various French artists, including Monet, Renoir, and Gauguin.
Originating in late 19th century France in opposition to the strict stylistic school of Realism, Impressionism sets out to capture the feeling of a single moment in all its vivid complexity, exploring the unique qualities light casts on a particular scene amidst all its vigorous bustle and motion seen from a particular angle or perspective, through visible brushstrokes and decisive colors, rather than focusing on realism, a common feature of the dominant art of the time.
In the collection, Camille Pissaro’s Garden corner in Eragny (1897) perhaps best exemplifies this tendency: a warm afternoon sunbathes a garden in hazy light, falling on young boys at play and on a tree whose shadow shades a woman sketching and provides contrast to a roughly painted pathway of shimmering, brown, slowly baking, iridescent dust and indistinct vegetation of lighter or darker greens, depending on their nearness to the shadow of the tree.
The most well-known Impressionists like Monet, Renoir, Degas and Post-Impressionists Gauguin, and Cezanne provide the foundation for the collection but they are complemented by many other outstanding painters from the era including Pissaro, Morisot, Sisley, and Corot combining to form a delightful, varied medley of French art not often seen in traveling exhibits.
While the selection of works from the collection in this exhibit does not showcase any iconic Impressionist works, it does present a charming selection of themes consisting of holiday seascapes, reflecting the light playing on the water at noonday or the pounding rage of the surf captured in thick, white-flecked brushstrokes; of lush French landscapes full of bright light and color and peaceful tranquility; and numerous even surprising depictions of La Femme.
The collection does not contain the usual erotic objectification of women so often portrayed in nineteenth-century art but has instead paintings of La Femme by women, like Berthe Morisot’s Young Girl on the Grass (1885), where a girl, painted in wide, curving brushstrokes, sits in youthful innocence, as bright in her red jacket and health as any of the vibrant flowers beside her.
Morisot (1841-1895) focused on female subjects in her paintings, portrayed in dignity, not a vice. As a woman, Morisot struggled to be accepted in the Parisian art world, and despite her accomplishment and success as a painter her themes were not taken seriously and often dismissed for being too womanly and insubstantial.
Another highlight of the exhibit is a room of works by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), whose distinctive use of color sets him apart from all others. His works inspired from his stay in Tahiti, although sensuous in tone and exotic in color, are also deviant as they portray native women in innocence – their nakedness ambivalent and any lustful gaze grotesque. Gauguin’s Tahitians are on the precipice of disaster, their dream-like life endangered by the encroaching white man. His Adam and Eve (1902) captures this as Adam is painted as a European, turning away from the fruit Eve offers, as if to say that the only way to preserve this paradise is to refuse it and flee.
The exhibit is on loan from the Ordrupgaard Museum of Denmark and has been making its way throughout Europe. It was originally the private collection of Wilhelm Hansen, a prosperous Danish insurance broker, who turned to art, amassing most of the collection on display around the First World War, successfully betting that their value would soar in the aftermath of the war.
Hansen would later open his collection to weekly public viewings, and after his death, he donated it to the Danish government, so that the public might also enjoy the works he collected. Selected works from the collection can be seen until October 13 at the National Gallery in Kinsky Palace.
More information is available from the National Gallery here