BIRTH OF IMPRESSIONISM – Now at the de Young

Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay, through September 6th

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco welcomes the United States debut of Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay, on view at the de Young Museum now through September 6th, 2010. The exhibition includes nearly 100 paintings from the Musée d’Orsay’s permanent collection and highlights the work of 37 artists including William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Paul Cézanne, Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and James McNeill Whistler. The Musée d’Orsay is lending its most beloved paintings while it undergoes a partial closure for refurbishment and reinstallation in anticipation of the museum’s 25th anniversary in 2011. Birth of Impressionism will be followed in the fall of 2010 by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post–Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay. The de Young will be the only museum in the world to host both exhibitions.

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Birth of Venus, 1879. William Bouguereau
Oil on canvas. 118 x 85 inches

“Each of these two shows brings together masterpieces that, once they return to the Musée d’Orsay, will never again be loaned out for exhibition as a group,” says Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic. “I hope they will excite the interest of the American public in order to strengthen further the links between our two countries.”

“These two exhibitions present a rare and unique opportunity for Americans to see the evolution and incubation of the Impressionist style from the collection of the most important repository of French 19th- and early 20th-century art––the Musée d’Orsay,” says John E. Buchanan, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “These exhibitions give us the chance to share with visitors some of the most seminal works of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art that they would only be able to see in Paris or in an art history book.”

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Red Roofs, Village Corner, Impression of Winter. 1877.
Camille Pissarro. Oil on canvas. 21 x 26 inches

Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay presents eleven galleries of works by the famous masters who called France their home during the mid- to late-19th century and from whose midst arose one of the most original and recognizable of all artistic styles, Impressionism. The exhibition begins with the great academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s dramatic Birth of Venus. Visitors then walk through a life-sized photo blowup of the façade of the Palais de L’Industrie, the site of the Salon in 1856, the annual juried art exhibition in Paris overseen by the Académie des Beaux-Arts at which artistic careers were made or broken. This burgundy-colored gallery presents the works of art as they would have been exhibited in the Salon and includes paintings by the arch-Realist Courbet as well as Rafaelli, Cabanel, Moreau, Delaunay and Millet.

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Self-portrait with a pink background, c. 1875.
Paul Cézanne. Oil on canvas.

Subsequent galleries lead the viewer through The Terrible Year and examine the consequences of the Franco-Prussian War, into a gallery exploring the influence of Spanish painting with works including Regnault’s heroic, ten-foot tall portrait of General Juan Prim and then to a gallery featuring the work of transitional artist Édouard Manet. This gallery features some of Manet’s most important work, including The Fifer, Woman with Fans, and the diminutive portrait of poet Stéphane Mallarmé, and explores how Manet, who never exhibited with the Impressionists, continued to seek innovative techniques to further his style and challenge the boundaries of the Salon. Next, enter the Ecoles des Batignolles gallery and experience the collaboration between the artists Bazille, Renoir, Manet and Sisley, and avant garde writers and critics of the day as they shared ideas and studios in the Batignolle area of Paris, and used each other as subject matter in their work.

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The Dancing Lesson. 1873-1876.  Edgar Degas.
Oil on canvas, 37 3/8 x 29 ½ inches

Enter the New Painting gallery through a giant photo blowup of the façade of the studio of the photographer Nadar, which was the site of the first Impressionism exhibition in 1874 after the Impressionists broke away from the Salon. Here three of the exhibition’s most important paintings are on view: Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother by James McNeill Whistler, The Magpie by Claude Monet and The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte. The next three galleries showcase the techniques and stylistic conventions of Classic Impressionism with multiple works by Monet, Renoir, Morisot, Pissarro and Sisley including Renoir’s The Swing, Monet’s Gare Saint-Lazare and Rue Montorgueil, Paris, 1878, Sisley’s Snow at Louveciennes, and Morisot’s The Cradle. The exhibition concludes with a gallery filled with works by Cézanne (L’Estaque, The Hanged Man’s House), Pissarro (Red Roofs, Corner of the Village, Winter Effect) and a selection of Degas’ paintings that depict images of the ballet (The Dancing Lesson), the racetrack (Racehorses Before the Stands), and life in the Belle Époque (At the Stock Exchange, The Pedicure).

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Snow at Louvenciennes. 1878.
Alfred Sisley. Oil on canvas. 24 x 20 inches

“Does Impressionism still have something to teach us about its sources, its beginnings, its transformations, and its links with the period of its first flowering?” Musée d’Orsay curator Stéphane Guégan asks. “This is the challenge taken up by this exhibition which attempts to decompartmentalize the movement by comparing it with art in the 1870s in general.”
Click here to purchase tickets on-line: Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay

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The Gare Saint-Lazare. 1877. Claude Monet.
Oil on canvas, 29 ¾ x 41 inches.

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.


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