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French Impressionism and Boston at the Norton

Post #744 • March 2, 2006, 6:41 PM • 3 Comments

Bostonians seriously collected Impressionist works even as the artists were making them. Thus a rich Impressionist collection landed at the Boston MFA, one whose earliest acquisitions predate those of the Met. A selection of the Boston holdings, 57 of them, are on display at the Norton, but only through this weekend, so get up there.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919): Grand Canal, Venice, 1881. Oil on canvas, 21 1/4 by 25 5/8 inches (54 by 65.1 cm). Bequest of Alexander Cochrane.

Interest in the new style reached such a fervor that Boston produced a few Impressionists of her own. Some of these artists were collectors and advisors to the board of the MFA, bringing first-hand expertise to the act of acquisition. (I strain to come up with an analogous contemporary example.) The Americans didn't get it on the scale of Monet, but the show has a sweet image of a washerwoman by Frederic Porter Vinton, and two works by William Morris Hunt, one of which depicts Gloucester Harbor in a manner that would have given Manet a run for his money. Then, of course, there was Sargent, who absorbed what Giverny had to offer and poured it into exquisite portraiture.

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925): Helen Sears, 1895. Oil on canvas, 65 7/8 by 36 inches (167.3 by 91.4 cm). Gift of Mrs. J. D. Cameron Bradley.

One lesser-known name deserves special mention: Stanislas Henri Jean Cazin, a terrific painter whom I had never heard of. But all the heavyweights of the late Barbizon and early Impressionism are there, starting with Millet, and including Diaz de la Peña, Boudin, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Hassam, Monet, and more.

Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926): Water Lilies [Water Lilies (I)], 1905. Oil on canvas, 35 1/4 by 39 1/2 inches (89.5 by 100.3 cm). Gift of Edward Jackson Holmes.

Monet comes off especially strong, with twelve paintings ranging from snowy landscapes to summery outdoor portraits. His dedication to the pure act of seeing and his love of paint practically shine off of the walls, and you have to hand it to those 19th Century Bostonians - they knew a good thing when they saw it.

Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926): Camille Monet and a Child in the Artist's Garden in Argenteuil, 1875. Oil on canvas, 21 3/4 by 25 1/2 inches (55.3 by 64.7 cm). Anonymous gift in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin S. Webster.




March 3, 2006, 7:54 AM

Once again we must envy all the other cities that have exhibitions like this.

I can't get as enthusiastic as you about Cazin. He was one of those Barbizon painters of a watered-down Impressionist persuasion who became hugely successful not only in France but also here. He was the sort of artist the rich folks bought rather than buy Monet et al. He could paint, for sure, but next to the best guys, or his colleague Corot, he looks sweet & sour and even a little pre-Raphaelitish.

The Renoir is fine as are the Monets, although Monet was not at his best with the figure, and the Sargent is total elegance - what a showoff he was!



March 3, 2006, 8:53 AM

I find it kind of bizarre that you left the Manet out of this review. In my opinion, it was the best in this show.



March 3, 2006, 10:03 AM

It was a beauty, to be sure. We're talking about Street Singer, about 1862, oil on canvas, 67 3/8 by 41 5/8 inches. I very much like what Manet can do with gray.



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