VAN GOGH, GAUGUIN, CÉZANNE & BEYOND – A San Francisco Must-See Experience

Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay at the
de Young Museum through January 18, 2011

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne & Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay presents ten galleries filled with nearly 120 of the Musée d’Orsay’s most famous late 19th-century paintings. The show begins with late Impressionist work by Monet, Degas, Pissarro and Renoir, followed by a gallery hung with Pointillist works by Seurat, Signac and Van Rysselberghe that explores the technique of optical color mixing. Three galleries delve into the more individualistic styles of the early modern masters including Cézanne, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Van Gogh. Later galleries focus on the influence of Gauguin on the younger artists who painted as part of the Pont Aven School and then spun off into the group known as the Nabis painters that included Bonnard, Denis, Bernard and Vuillard. Further galleries explore the Nabis themes of symbolism and intimism. The show concludes with room-sized decorative panels that were designed to integrate art and beauty into domestic life created by Nabis painters Vuillard and Bonnard.
Click here to order tickets on-line: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne & Beyond


Paul Sérusier, Nature morte: l’atelier de l’artiste
Still Life: The Artist’s Studio. 1891
Oil on canvas. Image: h: 24 x w: 29 inches.

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Camille Pissarro, Le pont Boïeldieu à Rouen. 1896
Oil on canvas. Image: h: 21 x w: 26 inches.

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Claude Monet, Tempête à Belle-Ile
Storm, Coasts of Belle-Ile. 1886
Oil on canvas. Image: h: 26 x w: 32 inches.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE EXHIBIT

NEO–IMPRESSIONISM
Critic Félix Fénéon coined the term Neo-Impressionism in his review of the 1886 Impressionist group exhibition. The radically new pointillist technique initiated by Seurat dominated this final joint project and precipitated the group’s disintegration. In contrast to Impressionism’s spontaneity, Neo-Impressionism constructed a highly formalized, rational, and scientific approach that reflected the latest research in optical and color theory. Seurat, joined by Pissarro and Signac, transformed Monet’s broken brushwork into a refined and systematic juxtaposition of small dots (pointillism) or parallel dabs (divisionism) of pure color. Rather than mixing the colors on a palette, they aimed to replicate on canvas the luminosity found in nature by means of “optical mixing” – enhancing the vibrancy of one color by juxtaposing it with its complementary color.

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Georges Seurat, Study for A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte.
1884-1886. Oil on panel. h: 6 1/4 x w: 9 7/8 inches.

Paul Cézanne
Exhibiting with the Impressionists in 1874 and 1877, Cézanne soon retreated from the public arena, and especially from public criticism, to work in relative isolation in his native Aix-en-Provence in southern France. Over the next 20 years Cézanne painstakingly developed a deeply personal idiom. His expressed goal, invoking the 17th century’s celebrated arch-classicist, was “to do Poussin again, from Nature” and “to make of Impressionism something solid and durable, like the art of the museums.”

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Paul Cézanne, Bathers, 1890.
Oil on canvas. Image: h: 23 5/8 x w: 32 ¼ inches.

Uniquely, Cézanne utilized patches of unmodulated color, thinly painted to enhance luminosity, as a means to model and describe the underlying geometric structure of the visible world. Cézanne’s “constructivist” technique—identified by the critic Félix Fénéon in the early 1890s and celebrated in Maurice Denis’s Homage to Cézanne (1900)—greatly influenced Paul Gauguin, Paul Sérusier, and eventually Pablo Picasso. Only in 1895 did a major retrospective at Ambroise Vollard’s Paris gallery showcase Cézanne’s output. The upwelling of enthusiasm from the younger artists and critics as well as the older Impressionists represented a spectacular reversal. Though his own paintings never gave way to complete abstraction, Cézanne’s rigorous analyses of structure and surface effects inspired the pioneers of Cubism and 20th-century abstraction.

The Pont-Aven School
A village just inland from the Atlantic coast on the Aven River in Brittany, Pont-Aven gave its name to a colony of artists gathered around Paul Gauguin. Although industrializing rapidly, Brittany was perceived by the group as untouched and unspoiled by the encroachments of modern life. Mythical Brittany—with its rugged coastline, religious pageantry, and charming Breton folk costumes (starched lace caps and collars, embroidered jackets, black cloaks, and wooden shoes)—provided picturesque imagery for successive generations of European and American artists.

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Emile Bernard, Les Bretonnes aux ombrelles
Breton Women with Umbrellas. 1892
Oil on canvas. Image: h: 32 x w: 41 inches.

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Paul Gauguin, Portrait de l’artiste au Christ jaune
Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ. 1890–1891
Oil on canvas. Image: h: 15 x w: 18 x inches.

Between 1886 and 1895 Pont-Aven’s intermittent residents included Émile Bernard, Paul Sérusier, Maurice Denis, Charles Laval, and the older Gauguin. Characterizing Breton life and landscape as “savage” and “primitive,” Gauguin and Bernard adopted coarse, abbreviated forms evocative of their perception of Brittany’s rustic nature. The resulting style of Synthetism manipulated nature according to personal graphic sensibilities in order to express emotional experience. Realism was replaced by a formal vocabulary that emphasized the abstract qualities of rhythmic surface patterns via repeating forms, colors, and lines. Gauguin exhorted: “Art is an abstraction! Study nature and brood on it and treasure the creation that will result.” In 1889 a groundbreaking exhibition at Paris’s Café Volpini showcased the Synthetist innovations of Gauguin and the Pont-Aven School.

The Nabis
Grappling with the aesthetic concerns of the Pont-Aven School, a tight-knit group of young Parisian artists came to embrace Synthetism. In the fall of 1888, group founder Paul Sérusier had shared his recent Pont-Aven experiences with fellow art students at the Académie Julian. Collectively rejecting their conservative training, they declared for the avant-garde and called themselves the Nabis. Inspired by the Hebrew and Arabic words for “prophet,” the name reflects the enthusiastic zeal with which the young iconoclasts embraced the novel ideas of Pont-Aven leader Paul Gauguin. Initial members Sérusier, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Paul Ranson were joined by Édouard Vuillard, Ker-Xavier Roussel, and Félix Vallotton, among others.

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Paul Sérusier, Le Talisman, l’Aven au Bois d’Amour
The Talisman, The Aven at the Bois d’Amour. 1888
Oil on wood panel. Image: h: 11 x w: 8 inches.

Regular gatherings took place at the Paris bistro L’Os à Moelle and at Ranson’s studio, called “The Temple,” on boulevard du Montparnasse. The artists’ common explorations of a purely decorative approach, emphasizing simplified forms and areas of flat color and patterning, often gave expression to subjective or even mystical subjects. Sérusier’s revolutionary painting The Talisman, the Aven at the Bois d’Amour (1888), executed under Gauguin’s advice, epitomizes the Nabis’ aggressively avant-garde creative stance.

Click on the image to order tickets on-line:
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Vincent Van Gogh, La chambre de Van Gogh à Arles
Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles. 1889
Oil on canvas. Image: h: 23 x w: 29 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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