Impression, Sunrise. Impression, Los Angeles

09/02/1999 Impression, Sunrise
Impression, Los Angeles

Impressionist masterpieces from the National Gallery are on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) this summer.

Los Angeles Times Art Critic Christopher Knight did not like it -- he writes: ". . . clearly designed as a vacant entertainment for people who have virtually no interest in art . . . a cheerful exercise in dumbing-down the museum . . . offers next to nothing to look at and even less to think about . . . apparently, the paintings were carefully chosen so that nobody in Washington would notice they were gone . . . an almost uniformly undistinguished group of second-and third-tier pictures by artists major and minor. All but 20 come from celebrated collections donated to the National Gallery over the years by Ailsa Mellon Bruce and her brother, Paul Mellon. Perhaps these were the pictures the Mellons used to decorate the powder rooms and back hallways at home . . . the minor piles up on the mediocre, and the undistinguished jostles for attention with the also-ran . . . [two paintings] by Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) give you an inkling of what Renoir was about to lose as his work went into steep decline after the 1870s. Naturally, the 40-year period of decline is abundantly represented. . . 'Around Impressionism' is a show that adds exactly nothing to our understanding, either of French painting in the 19th century or of the collection of the National Gallery of Art. . . An audio guide is also available, so you'll have something to occupy your ears while your eyes are being glazed over by mediocre paintings. Its nattering chitchat about the art is distracting, while the level of its insights shouldn't be too taxing on regular fans of the teletubbies. . ."

"Impressionist" was once a term of derision. In 1873 Christoper Knight's great-grandfather, also an art critic, reviewed an exhibition by a group of artists who desired to create full scale multi-figure depictions of ordinary people in casual outdoor situations. These artists deployed the idea that individual colors when placed next to each other optically mix in the eyes of the viewer. This art had been rejected by the Salon of France because it departed radically from established artistic convenvtion. One of the works displayed was "Impression, Sunrise." Knight's ancestor mockingly applied the first part of that title to the group. He meant it as an insult.

The Impressionists are the artists from that 1873 exhibition as well as those who joined them for exhibitions in 1876, 1877, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1882 and 1886. To wit:

  • Eugene Boudin 1824 - 1898
  • Camille Pissarro 1830 - 1903
  • Edourard Manet 1832 - 1883
  • Antoine Vollon 1833 - 1900
  • Edgar Degas 1834 - 1917
  • Alfred Sisley 1839 - 1899
  • Paul CÚzane 1839 - 1906
  • Claude Monet 1840 - 1926
  • Frederic Bazille 1841 - 1870
  • Piere-Auguste Renoir 1841 - 1919
  • Berthe Morist 1841 - 1895
  • Jean-Louise Forain 1852 - 1931
  • Henri Moret 1856 - 1895 and
  • Georges Seurat 1859 - 1891

At this point we record our delight at seeing Pissaro's portrait of a rustic girl free of the social artifice and moral strictures of the urban bourgeoisie, CÚzane's Mont Sainte-Victorie, and Renoir's Child with Toys -- Gabrielle and the Artist's Son Jean. Also included in the LACMA exhibit are
-- as example of the work from which impressionism evolved, paintings of:

  • Camille Corot 1769 - 1875
  • Carles-Francois Daobigny 1817 - 1878 and
  • Gustave Corubel 1819 - 1877

-- as an example of a contemporary of the impressionists who, unlike them, painted to evoke rather than record: Odilon Redon 1842 - 1916, and
-- as examples of the influence of the impressionists on the world, post-impressionists:
  • Vincient van Gogh 1853 - 1890 (Flower Beds in Holland c. 1883 and Farmhouse in Provance c. 1888)
  • Edouvard Villord 1868 - 1940 and
  • Piere Bonnard 1867 - 1947.

France no longer rejects Impression, Sunrise. It is on public display in Paris. If one examines its frame carefully scars left by the "R" for reject stamped there in the 1870's by an art critic might be noticed.