Saturday, December 18, 2010

Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay

Thursday afternoon I was happy to be back at the de Young for part 2 of the show from the Musée d’Orsay. The rooms are titled by artist or style, so I learned some new labels like "Pont-Aven School," "Synethetism" & "Intimism." John Singer Sargent's blazing portrait of La Carmencita dominates the 1st gallery. Poised & imperious, the dancer looks like she could step down from the frame. Perhaps, as in the previous show, an American has contributed the most memorable picture.

We get a nice sampling of late van Gogh. It's a thrill to see the famous, distinctly unrestful, Bedroom in Arles, as well as a shimmering Starry Night (1888) & a neurasthenic Portrait of Eugène Boch, his face tinged with unnaturalistic reds & greens. Across the wall, Toulouse-Lautrec is a good roommate, & I liked the observational quality of the drawing in his picture of a woman at her Bath.

The Cezanne gallery is unsurprisingly filled with landscapes & plenty of fruit. It includes the show's one Picasso, making the point that Cezanne prefigured cubism. Gauguin is represented by paintings on both European & Tahitian subjects, including a strange, unromantic picture of 2 wary-looking Tahitian Women. Gauguin also created the only sculpture in the show, a curious Wooden Jug in the Form of a Beer Stein, with totemic figures roughly carved into it. It apparently comes from a San Francisco collection.

Subsequent galleries illustrate the reach of Gauguin's influence on the Pont-Aven School, the Nabis & the Symbolists. Their imagery often feels immaterial, but I was stopped short by Vilhelm Hammershoi's Rest, a reticent Vermeer-like image of a seated woman, seen from the back. As one gets to the Pierre Bonnards & Vuillards, the show becomes explicitly bourgeois, domestic & decorative. I had no idea what to make of Bonnard's bizarrely proportioned White Cat, though I spent a lot of time absorbed in The Man and the Woman, its 2 nudes in their separate worlds. The show ends with wall-sized paintings by Bonnard & Vuillard, illustrating the motto "The Great Art We Call Decorative."

I went at a good time, so the exhibit was not too packed, though getting through the van Goghs is a contact sport. In contrast, the Pont-Aven School is a free run.

§ Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay
The de Young Museum
September 25, 2010 - January 18, 2011

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