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Paths to Impressionism: French and American Landscape Paintings

October 24, 2004, through February 13, 2005


(above: Childe Hassam, American (1859-1935). Gathering Flowers in a French Garden, 1888, oil on canvas. Worcester Art Museum.)


Forty-four lush landscape paintings comprise a major exhibition tracing the changing traditions of the Barbizon and Impressionist movements as their popularity rose in France and influenced the art of America. (right: Claude Monet, French (1840-1926). Les Nymphéas, Paysage d'eau/Water Lilies, Water Landscape, 1908, oil on canvas. Worcester Art Museum.)

Paths to Impressionism: French and American Landscape Paintings, on view in the Allentown Art Museum's Kress Gallery October 24, 2004, through February 13, 2005, features landscape paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, George Inness, Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent, Alfred Sisley, and many others. It explores the artists' changing attitudes about nature and explains the indelible connection Americans have had with this style of art.  The exhibition is organized by the Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, and is curated by Dr. Elizabeth Johns, renowned American art scholar, professor, and fellow at the College of the Holy Cross. Dr. Christine I. Oaklander, Allentown Art Museum Director of Collections and Exhibitions, is the on-site curator.

Paths to Impressionismis the first exhibition to combine the Worcester Art Museum's French and American collections, as French and American paintings are rarely displayed together. Several of the works have been off view for generations, disallowed travel because they were are fragile and declined to be lent to major shows. Other works have traveled and been published extensively. Several of the paintings were purchased by the Worcester Art Museum directly from the artists. As a result, they have been in a climate controlled environment under the care of professional curators and conservators for their entire history and so are in unusually good condition, with full surface richness.  Other paintings and their frames required extensive conservation treatment, and in preparation for the exhibition, Worcester conservators repaired frames and canvases, cleaned paintings, and removed discolored varnish. 

"The exhibition brings to Allentown exciting works by key Impressionist painters, but most importantly, it brings together the work of French and American artists as well as artists from the Barbizon and Impressionist schools," said David R. Brigham, the Priscilla Payne Hurd Director of the Allentown Art Museum. "All of the paintings to be shown have in common their immoderate beauty and high quality." (right: Julien Dupré, French (1851-1910). Les Faneurs/The Haymakers, 1886, oil on canvas. Worcester Art Museum.)

 Inspired by the ancient forests of Fontainebleau and the bucolic village of Barbizon, French painters in the mid-19th century romanticized the rural landscape with images that appealed to emotions. New revelations in the natural sciences prompted artists to ponder man's role in nature as well as the ramifications of urbanization and deforestation. Adopting a new philosophy that man cannot be separated from nature, Barbizon artists created works that drew the viewer into the scene, not as a bystander but as active participant. Following French Barbizon painters, American artists began to paint landscapes that depicted changing seasons and transients skies, capturing the light, mood, and mystery of nature.

At the turn of the last century, the Impressionists, consumed by modern life, looked for nature in everyday scenes in cities, markets, harbors, and parks. Focused on the quality of light, they worked with a light-colored palette invigorated with synthetic tones and used short, thick brushstrokes of pure color. Taking the lead from the French, a new generation of American Impressionists emerged and banded together in colonies along the Atlantic coast, as well as at Giverny, the town near Paris where Monet resided.

The exhibition, among other themes, addresses the current popularity of period frames. "We have put a new slant on the exhibition by considering five themes: Frames; The Barbizon School; Impressionism; the American Taste for Barbizon and Impressionist Art; and Corot, Inness, and the Contemplative Landscape," said Oaklander. "Also, the installation will work backwards, that is, it will start with Impressionism and work its way back to the Barbizon School."

New England residents, while their own forests were cleared for pasture and their farmlands depleted of nutrients, shared the artists' connection to nature and treasured their landscape paintings. In fact, Bostonians were pioneers in the appreciation of Barbizon and Impressionist art. Through early direct purchases from artists and the gifts of local collectors, the Worcester Art Museum quickly amassed an impressive collection of Barbizon and Impressionist works. In 1909, the Worcester Art Museum's first director returned from Paris with four paintings by Monet. The museum purchased two, positioning itself as the first in the nation to collect works by the most famous Impressionist. (right: John Henry Twachtman, American (1853-1902). The Waterfall, 1890s, oil on canvas. Worcester Art Museum.)  

 "This is a very special exhibition: Not since 1994-95 have we had an exhibition of American Impressionism and not since 1977 has the Museum exhibited French paintings of this quality," said Brigham.

Paths to Impressionism will run concurrently with two complementary exhibitions. Allentown Impressions: Views of City Parks (Rodale Gallery, October 24, 2004 - February 13, 2005) will feature Pennsylvania Impressionist works from the Allentown Art Museum's collection, as well as other historical paintings of Allentown parks and contemporary works commissioned particularly for the occasion. Pastoral themes evident in nineteenth-century landscape paintings were also popular in prints and printed textiles of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as demonstrated in Toiles for All Seasons: French and English Printed Textiles (Payne Hurd Gallery, November 21, 2004-February 27, 2005).

Programming related to Paths to Impressionism will include a Fall Festival, a lecture by Dr. Johns, and a fall art mixer. Additionally, a paperback catalogue of the exhibition, authored by Dr. Johns, is available at the Museum Store. On December 1 at 12 P.M. there will be a Gallery Talk: "Seeing through Writing: Paths to Impressionism," by Marilyn Hazleton, writer and poet.


(above: Jervis McEntee, American (1828-1891). An Autumn Memory, 1883, oil on canvas. Worcester Art Museum.)


Editor's note: RL readers may also find of interest these related articles and essays:

Also see the American Imprtessionism before 1940 article from AskArt.com.

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rev. 10/6/04

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