Monday, August 06, 2012

Impressionism: Sensation and Inspiration

I've been in the Netherlands for a few days and we were delighted to find a major show of Impressionist paintings at the Hermitage Amsterdam, Impressionism: Sensation and Inspiration. It's an impressive show.

It presents paintings from the collection of The Hermitage in St Petersburg and attempts to place the impressionists in some sort of context. It's easy now, because we're so familiar with impressionists and the most famous works have become chocolate-box familiar, to forget exactly how revolutionary these paintings were. The exhibition reminds of this by including other paintings from the period, those which weren't shunned (and scorned) by the Salon, and which stuck rigidly to an iconography that, to our eyes, looks stilted and mannered. The impressionists were avant garde, for sure.

There's a lot of great stuff in the exhibition, but three paintings in particular caught my eye. Firstly, the one taken as the central image for the exhibition as a whole, Monet's Woman in a Garden from 1867. This is an early work, of course, five years before Impression, Sunrise, and the full impressionistic approach is still developing. The colours, too, feel slightly unlike Monet, in particular the red of the flowers. In colour and tone, the painting strongly reminds me of Vuillard. It's a lovely piece.

The second painting to catch my eye was another Monet, this time A Corner of the Garden at Montgeron, from 1876. This really has to be seen in the flesh to work: the illustration on here - and, indeed, pretty much any reproduction of it - cannot do thee justice painting. The sense of depth is astonishing. The effect is almost hologramatic, the way the plants in the foreground come towards you and the river and far bank recede into the distance. It is sheer genius. Where it is hung in the exhibition, there is a viewing gallery from the floor above which looks down on the painting, and the effect of viewing it from here is equally remarkable.

The third painting of note is Charles Hoffbauer In London (sometimes also known as In the Restaruant), painted in 1907. The year is important. It's the same year as Klimt produced Adele Bloch-Bauer I and The Kiss, and the exquisite central character in Hoffbauer's painting outKlimts even Klimt himself. Her silver dress is almost alive. The glass on the right of the table is so vivid you could reach out to grasp it. Everything about the painting is vital. If ever there was a painting inviting the viewer to walk inside and join the action, this is it.

The exhibition is on until January 2013. If you're Amsterdam way before then, I'd highly recommend it.

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