Go to the Beach
“Étretat: La Porte d’Aval, Bateaux de Pêche Sortant du Port” (c. 1885), by Claude Monet. © Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo: François Jay
Yet another exhibition on Impressionism? you might well ask yourself. That’s what I always think, but then when I see paintings by the masters, I am filled with joy at their light-filled beauty. The new show at the Musée Jacquemart-André, “L’Atelier en Plein Air: Les Impressionistes en Normandie,” offers not only plenty of works by the masters but also traces the development of the style by looking at some of the Impressionists’ predecessors and associates. Normandy is presented as the cradle of Impressionism and as a bridge between British and French painters, and along the way the show resurrects a few accomplished artists whose work has been forgotten.
Before Monet and the other Impressionists were even born, the English painter William Turner, commonly recognized as the spiritual grandfather of the Impressionists, was visiting Normandy and capturing its special sparkling light and colors, illustrated here by three small watercolors. Other British and French visitors to the Norman coast presented in the show who are also considered forerunners of Impressionism include Richard Parkes Bonington, Eugène Isabey and Camille Corot.
In the 19th century, with the increase in the number of wealthy families generated by the Industrial Revolution, a new fashion for sea bathing developed. Led by the English and aided by the development of the railroad, the movement transformed seaside towns from working ports and fishing villages into modish resorts, pushing aside working men and replacing them with scantily clad (for that time, at least) fun-seekers splashing in the waves. Normandy’s beaches were highly attractive to the British, who were instrumental in turning such towns as Dieppe, Deauville and Cabourg into chic resorts. The exhibition includes a number of small screens showing amusing postcard images and short films of people frolicking on Normandy’s beaches, and many of the paintings in the show depict similar scenes.
Several of the painters seen here are not considered Impressionists at all and are represented either because the subjects of their paintings are located in Normandy or because the way they captured its light relates them to the Impressionists. Degas, who is often identified with the movement but who did not like the term “Impressionist” and thought that painting en plein air was ridiculous, is represented by a very strange painting, “Petites Paysannes se Lavant à la Mer” (c. 1875-76), lent by a private collector. Three massive, loosely painted nudes standing in the waves fill the forefront of the canvas, two of them with their backs to the viewer. In between them can be seen in the distance other bathing women, oceanside cliffs and a setting sun in the best Impressionist tradition.
Gustave Courbet, another non-Impressionist whose light effects definitely anticipated the movement, is represented by a beautiful view of the famous cliff at Étretat, bathed in the glow of a pink sunset, and the highly impressionistic “La Plage à Trouville” (1865), all delicate pink clouds at sunset, painted before Impressionism even had a name. On the other side of the movement is Post-
Impressionist Paul Gauguin, who contributes
“Le Port de Dieppe” (c. 1885), by Paul Gauguin. © Manchester Art Gallery, UK/Bridgerman Images
a decidedly Impressionist work: “Le Port de Dieppe” (c.1885),
Included among the true Impressionists on show are, of course, many works by Monet, including the gorgeous “Étretat, la Porte d’Aval, Bateaux de Pêche Sortant du Port” (c. 1885; pictured above), with colorful little fishing boats gaily heading out to sea past the same cliff painted by Courbet.
There are many surprises in the show, among
“La Cueillette des Moules à Berneval” (1879), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. © Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington
them a couple of lovely (and different from the others) landscapes by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, better known for his portraits. Nearby is a wonderful work by Gustave Caillebotte,
“Régates à Trouville” (c. 1884), by Gustave Caillebotte. © Photograph Incorporated, Toledo“Régates à Trouville” (c. 1884).
“Régates à Trouville” (c. 1884).
The highly talented yet strangely neglected painter Eva Gonzalès is represented by the beautiful “Plage de Dieppe Vue depuis la Falaise Ouest” (1871), a sweeping view from above of Dieppe’s beach and cliffs, and another woman painter, Berthe Morisot, by a fine beach scene, “La Plage des Petites Dalles” (1873).
Accomplished works by a couple of painters I had never heard of, Louis Anquetin and Charles Angrand, one a view of the Seine at Rouen from above and the other a night view of the same city, made me want to know more about them.
If Turner was the spiritual granddaddy of impressionism, Eugène Boudin was the natural father. A marine landscape painter based in
“Scène de Plage à Trouville” (1869), by Eugène-Louis Boudin. © Galerie de la Présidence
Normandy, he was one of the first to paint en plein air and was responsible for convincing Monet to give up drawing caricatures and become a painter. A number of his works are on show here.
Need I say more? This is a delightful show that should not be missed.
Musée Jacquemart-Andre: 158, boulevard Haussmann, 75008 Paris. Métro: Miromesnil. Tel.: 01 45 62 11 59. Open daily, 10am-6pm, until 8:30pm on Monday. Admission: €12. Through July 25, 2016. www.musee-jacquemart-andre.com
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