Culture | Culture Brief: A History of Impressionism

Until January 20, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will be exhibiting 75 French impressionist paintings, originally displayed at the Clark Institute in Massachusetts, including several of Monet and Renoir’s romanticized scenic paintings, and Degas’ famous ballerinas.

The exhibit boasts works by Henri Rousseau, Camille Pissarro, and Jean-Baptiste- Camille Corot. Even if these names do not sound familiar, the stunning colours and intricate brushstrokes of these 19th century pieces are breathtaking.

The exhibit itself is straightforward; it successfully offers a variety of impressionistic styles without presenting viewers with too much or too little of each artist. The first room begins with still life studies and earlier pieces from Monet and Rousseau. There is an increasing selection of landscape paintings as you walk through the exhibit. Since Impressionism focuses mainly on the artists’ fascination with scenery and nature, expect plenty of canvases filled with European fields, ports, canals, and gardens.

Three pieces that I found myself gawking at for an extended period of time were Monet’s Sunset and The Cliffs at Etretat, as well as Pissarro’s Sunset at St. Charles, Eragny. While Monet cleverly manipulates all possible shades of muted pinks, oranges, and blues to depict sunset and natural light on moving water, Pissarro focuses on weaving together more vibrant greens with impossibly tight brush strokes to depict the landscape. Any 19th century painting of sunsets and scenery that could make you relive the moment painted on the canvas is definitely a masterpiece in my book.

The exhibition then leads viewers away from landscapes to more diverse aspects of French Impressionism, through dreamy portraits of voluptuous women, then to a rather unexpected introduction to orientalist imagery in Impressionism with the works of Jéan-Leon Gérôme.

The genius of these paintings lies in the details and incorporated imagery. As microscopic as each brushstroke may seem, they add to the artists’ skillful play of light, shadow, and thoughtful imagination. The exhibition cleverly groups the works throughout the gallery so that it is easy for viewers to gradually study and understand the style of these great French artists.


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