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St Louis Art Museum extends Impressionist show till 14 July

— July 2014

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Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926; Boulevard des Capucines, 1873–74; oil on canvas; 31 5/8 x 23 3/4 ins; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Purchase: the Kenneth A. and Helen F. Spencer Foundation Acquisition Fund, F72-35

The major exhibition, ‘Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet’, which includes loans from 36 institutions in America and Europe, coincides with celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the founding of St Louis by French settlers.  In addition to 120 paintings and photographs, ‘Impressionist France’includes maps, tourist guides and ephemera. 

The exhibition focuses particularly on the years between 1850 and 1880.  During these decades, painters and photographers travelled around France, exploring the exceptionally rich and varied range of history and geography in the nation.  These years saw the Golden Age of early photography, the culminating production of the Barbizon School, and the high point of early Impressionism. 

'Impressionist France' includes important work by photographers such as Gustave Le Gray and Charles Marville, Barbizon School painters including Camille Corot and Théodore Rousseau, and Impressionist painters such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne,  Édouard Manet  and Berthe Morisot. These artists composed competing visions of France as modern and industrialized or as rural and anti-modern.

The exhibition is curated by Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Saint Louis Art Museum, and April M. Watson, curator of photography at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

The exhibition takes visitors on a journey to 19th-century France through seven thematic sections exploring Paris and the modern cityscape; monuments; rivers and forests; rural and agricultural life; mountains; marine views; and railroads and factories.

The opening section focuses on Paris and explores the transformation of the capital in Napoleon III’s Second Empire (1852–70) into the modern city of expansive boulevards that we know and love today. Luminous photographs highlight the city’s new architecture while this section includes iconic Impressionist paintings including Monet’s famed winter view, Boulevard des Capucines, Auguste Renoir’s sun-dappled The Grands Boulevards, and Manet’s richly colourful view of a flag-bedecked street at the time of the 1878 World’s Fair in Paris.

After exploring Paris, the visitor will move into a section which explores the rich tradition of monuments in France, ranging from ancient Roman ruins to mediaeval Gothic cathedrals and Renaissance châteaux. Among the highlights here are two light-filled views of the mediaeval walled city of Aigues-Mortes on the Mediterranean Coast by the tragically short-lived Impressionist, Frédéric Bazille.

From there, the visitor enters the expansive rivers and forests of France — a gallery dominated by an almost haunting painting by Gustave Doré set deep inside a pine forest. The exhibition also boasts rarely seen images of the country’s national symbol, the oak tree, by Le Gray and Rousseau. Also in this gallery, visitors can explore the rivers of France — from Charles-François Daubigny’s representation of the Seine as an idyllic retreat in the face of rapid industrialization and growing tourism, to the lush pastoral views produced by Henri-Joseph Harpignies and Camille Silvy.

Despite the fame of Paris, 19th century France was, above all, an agricultural nation. The next section explores this farming tradition with captivating views of vineyards by Monet and Jules Breton. Also included here are a number of rustic views by Pissarro. 

Visitors to 'Impressionist France'  will then be faced with the grandeur of France’s mountains, including the iconic Alps range and, particularly, Mont Blanc.  Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc was acquired by France from the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1860 in a major foreign policy success for Napoléon III and the Second Empire, and this played a prominent role in the imperial vision of France as a prosperous and expansionist nation. 

'Impressionist France' culminates with a gallery dedicated to the theme of Railroads and Factories, focusing on the Impressionists’ representations of these crucial aspects of modernity.  Monet’s views of the railroad bridge in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil complement Pissarro’s pictures around Pontoise and Degas’s impressive view of the entrepreneur, Henri Rouart, in front of his factory. 

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, which is reviewed by Adrian Lewis in July’s Cassone.

St Louis Art Museum
One Fine Arts Drive
Forest Park
St Louis
MO 63110-1380


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