through September 6, 2010
I'm coming late to the party, but last night I finally went to the de Young & saw the blockbuster Birth of Impressionism exhibit during extended hours. My gallery companions thought it was not crowded, but I found it competitive to get close to some of the paintings & was jostled quite a bit. There is not a lot of space between paintings, so it felt cramped in general. The exhibit is organized as an evolutionary progression, starting with Academic & Realist paintings to set context. Bouguereau' s hairless fantasies make me itch, but I get the point. I really enjoyed seeing Caillebotte's photo-like Floor Scrapers again. I found Courbet's dying La Truite to be somehow violent & pathetic. I am not familiar with Jean-Francois Raffaelli, but I liked his strange group portrait of peasants from Plougasnou, which prefigures Van Gogh's potato eaters & photojournalism in general. Another unfamiliar artist to me was Alexandre Falguière, whose masculine painting of Wrestlers is one of the biggest canvases in the show.
The exhibit has plenty of star power, though, with characteristic works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas & Cezanne. Whistler's Mother is here, & fortunately she turns out to be unexpectedly fun, funny & rewarding to see in person, despite being over-exposed through reproductions. The final rooms contain pictures of the sort that one commonly associates with the Impressionists: pleasant outdoor views filled with vibrating colors. Monet's large canvas of strutting turkeys is unexpected & humorous. Impressionism is the first modern art, &, judging by the approving crowds, the most popular. I guess public taste is only about 150 years behind the times.