November 28, 2010
Pointillism Lovers Shown at de Young's Post Impressionist Exhibit
Three of my favorite post-impressionist artists are currently filling several rooms at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
In from Musee d'Orsay in Paris, which I've been to at least a dozen times, I saw pieces I had never seen before, likely because when I was at d'Orsay, those particular paintings were on exhibit elsewhere in the world.
A pet peeve I have with American museums (though I feel this on the west coast more than I have in Chicago or New York), is how controlled and structured the whole process is. In Europe, they encourage people to come to museums often, make tickets so inexpensive anyone can, and offer packages so people can come and go as they please as often as they want to -- again, all to support in-depth education around art and culture, something we just don't value as a culture the same way the Europeans do. Enuf said, but I had to say it.
For this exhibit, I had to get a ticket online in advance for a specific time since they're selling tickets in 90 minute increments. Then, I had to wait in a long line at my designated time and of course they're hoping that I'll be out in my 90 minute slot since the 6:30 pm, 7 pm and 7:30 pm crowds were on my heals. Lastly, the security guards are over-the-top. In Europe, they have security guards in the museums of course, but they're not so anal about having your foot a half inch over the line.
I'm looking at the depth of paint texture I'm thinking. I'm looking at the fine cracks in the canvas and marveling over their attention to detail I'm thinking. Several people pointed out later in a conversation about this, that it's perhaps because Americans don't have as much respect for art as our European counterparts, so there's a greater need to throw more security and regulations and rules and structure our way. What a way to live.
Despite the fact that I was one of hundreds in a cattle line going through the exhibit, and it was far too crowded, the collection was incredible, so much so that I ended up with books at the end, something I haven't done in years. And, I took notes....partly because I planned on writing about it and partly because the pieces were so fabulous. I was also introduced to new paintings and new artists I hadn't encountered before.
Throughout, I paid close attention to The Pointillist Technique (or Pointillism), which is often integrated in hundreds of other techniques and periods, whenever I visit museums. While there were clearly other techniques in these post-impressionist masterpieces, there were a large number of Pointillist paintings. And nearly all of them are French.
I came across Henri Edmond Cross' (1856-1910) Madame Hector France (see painting far left), which was exhibited at the 1891 Salon des Independants and a smaller piece of his called Hair from 1892, which looked like an impressionist version of Cousin Itt.
Paul Signac's (1863-1933) Women at the Well also used strong Pointillist techniques as did the colorful and vibrant seascapes of Belgian George Lemmen.
One I particularly like is Lemmen's Beach at Heist, completed in 1891, which was apparently influenced by Seurat. Lemmen's paintings were also shown at the 1887 Salon des XX in Brussells.
I absolutely love the simplicity of Seurat's The Circus Sketch, done in 1891.
While it was an oil on canvas, you almost feel as if it could have been a pencil sketch.
Another painting worth mentioning is Camille Pissaro's (1831-1903) Pont Boieldieu Rouen Sunset Misty Weather, a 1896 oil on canvas. Pissaro uses a combination of pointillist techniques and strong, short thick impressionist and post-impressionist strokes.
Seurat's Study for a Sunday on La Grande, a series done in the mid-1880s, consists of three small paintings all presented in white frames. There's beautiful detail in all of them, and if you look closely enough (with your foot a half inch across the line), you can see fine cracks in the original canvas.
There was quite a bit of Seurat in the exhibition, who was clearly influenced by the Pointillist style, but he also mixed techniques in many of his paintings. For example, his Model standing facing the front or study for the models is a series of paintings where he used miniature dots to give the paintings more depth, but added some 'flecks' in one of them, which almost look like tiny leaves daintily painted in different shades of periwinkle blue.
I was re-introduced to Theo van Rysselberghe (Belgian - 1862-1926), who like his Belgian counterpart, also did a number of seascapes. Sailing Boats & Estuary from 1887 was a seascape with very few colors - he used soft muted colors such as creams, blues and only a smattering of orange, red and green for the protruding dock.
He belonged to the Belgian avande-garde group Les XX (The Twenty), who adopted the Neo-Impressionist method of transcribing light through vibrant flecks of pure color. He also painted The Man at the Tiller in 1892 using the same technique.
Charles Angrand (1854-1926) did a piece called Couple in the Street in 1887 which combined the pointillist technique with short quick strokes in neutral earth-tone colors, again only infusing tiny fragments of color (red, green and blue), which he scattered into the background every so subtly.
A woman standing next to me was 'freaked out' by the piece and found it eerie, so much so she quietly shrieked her distaste for it to her boyfriend.
But, I love the complex mish-mash of colors and wildness of it.
It's an oil on board and I noticed that the signature on the painting looked like it read Hanker although frankly, I'm not clear on Lautrec's authentic signature since the two paintings to the right of it had none and the signature on the painting on the very end of the same row looked like it said FL.
You can't have a post-impressionist exhibit without Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), whose Portrait of Madame Cezanne warmed me through his choice of colors alone (done 1885-1890).
He mixed muted gray blue with sage gray blue with cream gray blue with mustard/saffron gray blue and all of just worked like Cezanne's paintings always do.
I was introduced to a new artist - Ker-Xavier Roussel (1867-1944) whose painting The Terrace from 1892 was in a room not far from the works of Maurice Denis (1870-1943), who mixed smooth post-impressionist medium brush stroke style with a smattering of pointillist technique.
For example, his painting entitled Princess Meleine's Minuet (Marthe at the Piano) was mostly done in realistic detail except for the background behind her.
The upper right of the painting is entirely pointillist, where he used a ton of color, ranging from pinks and purples to orange and green.
I was reminded of Vemeer (who apparently influenced him) when I first saw Vilhelm Hammershoi's (1864-1916) painting called Rest. Danish born, his colors are cooler than some of his counterparts.
The piece is a solitary woman sitting on a chair whose back is all we see - she is sitting in gray interiors, which like Vermeer's work, eliminated anectodal details and resulted in 'perfect' light like very few painters master.
Moving onto Symbolism, where we visit Odilon Redon (1840-1916) whose Sleep of Caliban is so damn good that you have a hard time moving onto the next piece. Eyes Closed done in 1890 is also an amazing piece worth spending time getting 'to know.' Below is Redon's Sleep of Caliban, which was based on the works of Shakespeare.
In The tempest, Caliban is a strange being who exists on the verge between human and animal. He and other creatures inspired Redon to produce many charcoal drawings in the 1870s. Known as ‘noirs’, these highly original works evoke mysterious beings in a world of subjective, often melancholic fantasy.
It was a vision that he had at the time, yet the couple to me, looks as if they could have just finished smoking a joint.
Moving beyond Symbollism, they also had some pieces that fell into what was referred to as Intimism.
The term Intimism (or Intimisme), used from the 1890s to describe the genre scenes produced by Bonnard, Vuillard and others. The focus tends to be close, the composition highly cropped, the colors muted, and the pattern intense.
In 1891 Bonnard shared a studio with Denis and Vuillard, and exhibited five paintings at the Salon des Indépendants in March (mentioned earlier in this post). Bonnard was unaffected by theories of art, declaring that painting was ‘the transcription of the adventures of the optic nerve’.
Below is a piece I fell in love with towards the end of the exhibition that fell into the Intimisme category - Intimacy: Portrait of Monsieur et Madame Claude Terrasse completed in 1891.
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