Exhibition: From Millet to Matisse.19th and 20th century French painting from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow
, 1 February 2005
In one room, the steam engine invented by the Scotsman James Watt. Nearby, works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Sisley, Seurat, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse… This is not by chance. Around 1850, Glasgow became an industrial and trading centre. A new class of businessmen soon emerged, making their fortunes in iron and steel, chemicals, shipbuilding and textiles, and they invested huge sums of money in art. Proud of being from Glasgow, those leading citizens bequeathed their collections to the city. Names like James Watt, Alexander Reid and Sir John Richmond have written the history of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, famous today for its art collections. Under the title From Millet to Matisse.19th and 20th century French painting from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, Fundación ”la Caixa” in Palma will be bringing together sixty-four paintings that take us through the extraordinary transformations of art over the last hundred years, from 1830 to the outbreak of the second world war. It brings together works by four of the founders of modernity: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso and Matisse; the precursors Jean-François Millet and Camille Corot, the Impressionists Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley, the post- Impressionists Georges Seurat, Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, and the Fauves André Derain and Raoul Dufy are also on show at this exhibition, which is exceptional for the number of masters it contains. Organised by the American Federation of Arts (AFA) and Glasgow Museums, Palma is the end of a journey that has taken the exhibition around many cities in North America, from Albuquerque to Quebec. It has been made possible by the temporary closure of some of the rooms at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery for refurbishment.
From Millet to Matisse.19th and 20th century French painting from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, curated by Vivien Hamilton, Glasgow Museums art curator, can be seen at Fundación ”la Caixa” in the Balearic Islands (Plaza de Weyler, 3; Palma), from 2 February to 24 April 2005.
Each season, Fundación ”la Caixa” in Palma puts on an exhibition related to the art movements of the late 19th century, specifically Art Nouveau. The aim is to connect the heritage of the Fundación in Palma (Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s Grand Hotel building and the Hermen Anglada Camarasa collection) with the great names of 19th and 20th century culture from the perspective of painting, architecture and the decorative arts, which fuse in Art Nouveau in a search for total art. Glasgow was one of the large cities of the United Kingdom that followed the guidelines of Art Nouveau, which gave rise to an original and distinctive version known as the Glasgow School, whose founder was the artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A tendency which distanced it from Birmingham and Manchester but brought it closer to Barcelona, Brussels, Vienna and Budapest.
The exhibition to be presented in Palma discovers another facet of Glasgow, practically unknown in this country: the nature of a series of visionary collectors who, between 1930 and 1940, turned to contemporary French art and obtained one of the finest collections of its kind for the city. Between 1800 and 1900, the population of Glasgow grew from 77,000 to over one million. Encouraged by the advances of the industrial revolution, the city became one of the most dynamic industrial and trading centres in the country. Some of the famous families who amassed great fortunes from their investments in the textile and ship-building sectors, among others, began to show an interest in collecting art.
Founded in 1901 and built with donations and bequests, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery houses the largest municipal collection in Britain today. The exhibition From Millet to Matisse. 19th and 20th century French painting from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow shows us the relation between the French avantgarde and the Glasgow collectors starting from an extraordinary group of sixty-four works which document the most important artistic developments between 1830 and 1940 through some of the most famous artists of the period.
One of the outstanding works in the exhibition is the enigmatic and expressive Portrait of Alexander Reid (1887), which until 1928 was mistakenly catalogued as a self-portrait. Reid (1854-1928), who with time became the most prominent dealer of Expressionist painting in Glasgow, shared a house in Montmartre with Theo and Vincent van Gogh, where he posed on two occasions for the painter. Reid’s resemblance to the artist was so striking that it led to mistaken conclusions. Moreover, the show presents the oil painting On the Way to Work (c. 1850-1851), by Jean-François Millet; idealised scenes of poverty by Jules Breton; still lifes by Gustave Courbet and François Bonvin; elegant floral studies by Henri Fantin-Latour, and the work La Pauvre Fauvette (1881), by Jules Bastien-Lepage.
The exhibition also contains works of the Barbizon School, from the master Camille Corot to Théodore Rousseau, whose landscapes were regarded as precursors of the Impressionists’ investigations in the French countryside, as suggested by The Banks of the Marne (1864), by Camille Pissarro. We can also see works by Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir and Paul Signac. The selection of Impressionist works is complemented by pictures related to Pointillism, such as Boy Sitting in a Meadow (c. 1882-83) by Georges Seurat. There are also works by Paul Gauguin, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, André Derain, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Louis Marcoussis, Albert Marquet, Mary Cassatt, Georges Rouault and Henri Matisse.
SEVEN THEMATIC SECTIONS
The exhibition is divided into seven thematic sections: Stylistic changes in 19th century French landscape painting; Reflections: Light in the water; Points of view; Figures in the exterior; Portraits; Still lifes; and Interiors.
Stylistic changes in 19th century French landscape painting
Between 1850 and 1920 the landscape genre in France took a radical turn: many artists abandoned the usual practice of working in their studio and went to paint outdoors, directly onto the canvas and from immediate experience. They were interested above all in portraying contemporary scenes as opposed to the traditional historical landscape. That evolution took in the first natural landscapes, patiently produced in the studio from sketches taken from nature, as Corot did, to Monet’s direct works, in small format, done quickly to try to capture the constant shifts of reality. Post-Impressionism, however, sought for something more permanent, hidden beneath the surface of reality, as in the case of Cézanne or Seurat; other painters, like Gauguin and Bernard, turned to the structuring of a new language, less mimetic and more evocative.
Reflections: light in the water
One of the favourite exercises of the landscape painters, the representation of the effects of light on water, shows a stylistic evolution from realistic formulae to more subjective and imaginative treatments which set out to evoke the feeling produced by that experience. With quick brushstrokes, Boudin and Daubigny tried to capture the image in constant change. The Impressionists understood that they had to represent the colours not from what they knew of the object but from how they perceived it, according to the light and atmospheric conditions of the moment; the fleeting reflections of the water offered a challenge to their talent. From his interest in the theory of colour, Signac approached the theme as a suitable field for developing his Pointillist technique; for their part, the Fauves, like Derain, made the surface of the water a place for emotional expression.
Points of view
When facing the blank canvas, every artist has to take a number of decisions. From the most immediate ones of subject and technique to the use of compositional resources or an attitude towards the object. Some artists, like Boudin, chose to paint their landscapes from nature, outdoors, whilst others, like Maurice Utrillo, preferred the comfort of their studio. In terms of process, we find a range from the fast work, done in a single session, of Alfred Sisley to the methodical, lengthy kind done by Henri Le Sidaner; different approaches in a single search for poetry in the everyday.
Figures in the exterior
Between 1850 and 1860 portraits of the agricultural world and its inhabitants were highly appreciated in French painting and acted as a proclamation of the need for greater realism, ranging from Millet’s powerful images of peasants to Jules Breton’s idealised views of rural poverty. Impressionism incorporated an interest in portraying the bourgeoisie engaged in their leisure activities, providing us with a faithful reflection of the social and economic changes in French society. At the end of the 19th century, many artists focused on the expressive potential of colour and simplified form to fully convey a state of mind or an emotion.
This selection of portraits provides a broad range of techniques and styles. Renoir approaches the portrait from the classical conventions of the genre, such as psychological investigation and a display of the model’s social position. From more subjective criteria, Van Gogh values the expression of emotions over any photographic resemblance to the subject. Other artists use the human figure as a pretext for exploring the effects of light or abstract decoration, as in the case of Matisse; or in Rouault’s, to conjure up a certain feeling of spirituality.
In 19th century France the still life genre enjoyed scant artistic reputation as opposed to the narrative genres (mythological, religious, historical and literary), the portrait and the landscape. Its renaissance was linked to the desire for pictorial experiment, which made it more practical to work with simple subjects and formats which would enable the artist to concentrate on studying languages and techniques. Those works also found easy acceptance in bourgeois homes. Around 1860, Cézanne, Courbet and Fantin-Latour’s still lifes won public favour and recovered respect for the genre. The works selected here show Courbet’s rough realism, Matisse’s decorative forms and Braque and Marcoussis’ complex, fragmented reality.
As opposed to the superficial naturalism of the Impressionists, the Nabi group advocated an art that paid attention to the emotional qualities of the subject, which could move both artist and public through intense colour, decorative forms and the use of patterns. With those premises, Vuillard, an outstanding member of the group, created a number of genuine visual puzzles, capable of producing the most varied sensations: harmony, tension, indolence. Many of his decorative domestic interiors are populated by people from his intimate circle: artists, writers, relatives and so on. The women who played a major role in his life stand out: his mother and his muses, Misia Natanson and Lucy Hessel.
From Millet to Matisse.19th and 20th century French painting from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow
2 February to 24 April 2005
Exhibition organised by the American Federation of Arts and Glasgow Museums
Opening: Tuesday 1 February at 19.30
Place: Fundación ”la Caixa” in the Balearic Islands
Plaza de Weyler, 3
Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00 to 21.00
Sundays and holidays, 10.00 to 14.00
Activities around the exhibition
– Thursday 31 March (at 19.30)
Lecture by Tomás Llorens, chief curator of the Museo Thyssen
– Thursday 14 April (at 19.30)
Lecture by Fernando Checa, professor of History of Art,
Universidad Complutense, Madrid
More information: www.fundacio.lacaixa.es