Impressionism—Light and Memory Monet,Gogh,Matisse,Picasso
The Pola Museum of Art and the Hiroshima Museum of Art are pleased to present this joint exhibition: Impressionism—Light and Memory.
Both museums are highly esteemed in and outside Japan for their collections of French modern art assembled post-war.
The two collections contain works by painters prominent in the development of Western modern art, most notably their excellent body of paintings by the Impressionists.
This exhibition has selected 73 masterpieces from the collections of the museums— centered on French Impressionist landscapes but also including various other works by artists ranging from Delacroix and Corot to Picasso and Matisse—in order to explore themes including the importance of travel and memory for these nineteenth-century painters, their modern gaze on cities and waterscapes, and how impressions of landscapes or changes of transient light are captured in their expression of forms and colors. The museums have been undertaking constant scientific research on their collections, for instance on works by Vincent van Gogh. Through up-to-date optical investigation, backed by a close study of relevant documents, we have been able to recover paintings’ memories—the production processes and techniques encapsulated within. In the last chapter of the exhibition, these traces of memories are presented, so as to enable a new appreciation of the works.
To realize this exhibition, we have been contemplating its structure and the selection of works during several years of research into the collections of both museums involving a constant exchange of opinions. We hope this will open the way to a renewed appreciation in Japan of French Impressionist painting and a fuller understanding of the collections of the two museums.
Section I. The Expanding World: Curiosity and Nostalgia
Nineteenth-century France lay at the hub of an expanding world—in terms of diplomacy and politics, ideology and spirituality, and the development of transportation harnessing scientific and technological progress. The boundaries of the physical world depicted by painters, accordingly, also expanded. When Corot traveled near and far, creating paintings out of the impressions and feelings he received directly from nature, his works were interpreted in France—where urbanization was reaching into the countryside—as expressions of nostalgia for an unspoiled Arcadia. Courbet, on the other hand, eternalized in many of his works a love of the landscapes of his homeland, the Franche-Comté region of eastern France.
What underlay the French painters’ enthusiasm for Orientalism was their curiosity for the landscapes and customs of undiscovered worlds. Delacroix opened his eyes and his art to the exotic cultures of North Africa, so different from his own; Renoir, who revered Delacroix, followed in his footsteps to Algiers. Gauguin, whose life was one constant journey, driven by curiosity, went to rude and “uncivilized” regions such as Brittany’s Pont-Aven and Tahiti to produce numerous works on themes of culture and religious belief—works rooted in humanity—that challenged the very idea of “civilization.”
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Bathers in the Borromean Islands, ca. 1872, Hiroshima Museum of Art
Eugène Delacroix, An Arabian at the Tomb, 1838, Hiroshima Museum of Art
Paul Gauguin, Dog in Front of the Hut, Tahiti, 1892, Pola Museum of Art
Section II. Gazing on the City: Panorama and Portrait
Among European cities, Paris emerged from the Industrial Revolution as a prototype of the modern metropolis: the “Capital of the Nineteenth Century,” as the cultural critic Walter Benjamin put it. While some regretted the renovation implemented by the then prefect of the Seine, Haussmann, claiming that good old Paris had disappeared, the Impressionists generally delighted in the changes and often portrayed panoramic views of the new city. Of course, any urban landscape by its very nature is undergoing constant change; the modern artistic sensibility shared by the Impressionist painters is defined by its gaze on this flux, as, for example, in their observations of changes due to weather and time.
For the painters of this period, the people who made up contemporary society also became an important subject; they frequently directed their gaze onto those living around them. When Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, or Picasso created images of their contemporaries, rather than portraits of individuals, they were apt to be called “portraits of the age.”
Camille Pissarro, The Pont-Neuf, 1902, Hiroshima Museum of Art
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin de la Galette, ca. 1891, Pola Museum of Art
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Aristide Bruant, 1893, Hiroshima Museum of Art
Section Ⅲ. Landscape as Form: Spaces and Reflections
Painters such as Boudin, Sisley, and Monet are renowned for their paintings of waterscapes. These places abounding with nature, at resorts on the Normandy coast or beside the Seine, now accessible because of the development of new rail networks, were portrayed as glimpses of modern life.
Boudin and Sisley expressed the idea of the expansion of space within traditional compositions, lowering the horizon line to maximize the area available for the sky and depicted ever-changing cloud patterns and atmospheric effects, while adopting the plein-air approach. Monet’s early works hint at the influence of Boudin, but he then departed from tradition to create original compositions inspired by Japanese art. In Monet’s paintings, the horizon gradually rises until finally only water surface fills the pictured universe. Even as Monet continued to paint trembling reflections on water, his improvisational brush touch became transformative: a fantastical, two-dimensional world was created in which forms and colors meet in perfect harmony.
Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine, 1897, Hiroshima Museum of Art
Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament, Symphony in Rose, 1900, Pola Museum of Art
Section IV. Light-filled Landscapes: Color and Poetry
Employing to the fullest the effects produced by colors and brushstrokes, painters depicted beautiful landscapes that impressed them–whether under bright sunlight or mystical moonlight.
In the late nineteenth century, Monet and other Impressionist painters began using bold, swift brushstrokes to capture landscapes as they changed from moment to moment before their gaze. The technique of divided brushstrokes, that involves separating and juxtaposing pure colors on the picture plane, allowed these artists to eternalize on canvas the vivid light penetrating their eyes.
Seurat and Signac—Neo-impressionists—took the technique further and invented pointillism, in which a picture is composed of small dots of color that, when viewed from a distance, blend together in the viewer’s eye. Signac earnestly advocated the technique and published a treatise on the subject, having a significant influence on painters in and outside France. The bright coloring of pointillism prepared the way for Fauvism’s vivid colors to blossom at the beginning of the twentieth century. On the other hand, a subtle expression of light leads us to the mystical landscapes of the Symbolist painters.
Claude Monet, La Promenade, 1875, Pola Museum of Art
Georges Seurat, Low Tide at Grandcamp, 1885, Pola Museum of Art
Georges Seurat, Around the Town, 1883, Hiroshima Museum of Art
Section V. Journeying into Memory: Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Matisse
A painting not only displays forms and colors the artist purposely painted, it also distinctly reflects both the artist’s personality and his or her preoccupation with a particular production process, as testified by the tracings of brushstrokes and accidental marks (remnants inseparable from manual work). By analyzing each work carefully to highlight such details, and studying them further using scientific methods, literature research, and field work, this chapter goes in search of the artist’s state of mind and the painting’s “memory,” the thoughts and moods intentionally, or unintentionally, embodied therein.
Although it might seem that Van Gogh, in the ardor of the moment, would start and finish a painting at one sitting, scientific research has revealed the elaborate preparations he undertook when producing a work. New techniques perfected by Cézanne—such as intentionally leaving parts of a canvas unpainted or drawing by breaking down a shape into its building blocks—have been found to be closely related, in a way, to aspects of the environment in which he worked. As for Matisse, traces left within his works and photographs capturing in detail his production methods reveal the repeated and varied trial-and-error approaches he undertook to accomplish his art.
Vincent van Gogh, The Gleize Bridge over the Vigueirat Canal, 1888, Pola Museum of Art
Henri Matisse, The France, 1939, Hiroshima Museum of Art
Vincent van Gogh, Flower Vase with Thistles, 1890, Pola Museum of Art