COLUMBIA, SC.- National Museum Wales, known for having one of the finest Impressionist art collections in Europe, sent to the U.S. highlights from its remarkable Davies Collection, an extraordinary group of 19th and early 20th-century paintings that is renowned for its beauty and quality. These works, which helped shape the course of Western art, were assembled between 1908 and 1923 by sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies. The collection is exceptionally strong in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works and includes masterpieces by, among others, Cézanne, Corot, van Gogh, Monet, Daumier, Manet, Millet, Pissarro, Renoir, Turner and Whistler.
Turner to Cézanne features 53 stunning works of art, seen together in the United States for the first time. The exhibition will travel to only five venues and the Columbia Museum of Art is the opening venue. The Columbia presentation is made possible by the Blanchard Family. The exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts and National Museum Wales.
Some highlights of the exhibition are Renoirs famous La Parisienne, which was included in the first show of Impressionism in 1874, a Monet Waterlilies, and van Goghs panoramic RainAuvers, painted during the last week of the artists life.
Karen Brosius, Columbia Museum of Arts executive director says, The Museum is delighted to bring this important and unprecedented exhibition to Columbia, giving visitors from around the Southeast the chance to see incredibly beautiful works of art by some of the worlds greatest Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists for the first time. We are grateful to the National Museum of Wales for sharing their superb collection, and to the Blanchard Family for making this exhibition possible in Columbia.
Providing fresh insight into the story of European art from J.M.W. Turner to Paul Cézanne, this exhibition also celebrates the legacy of two pioneers of modern art. Among the most important patrons in Europe at a key moment in the history of painting, the sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies concentrated their collecting on the period of around 18501914, principally on French art, with a small number of English works. The extraordinary collection that they amassed and later bequeathed to National Museum Wales included the most important names in the Realist, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist movements.
Drawn from the Davies sisters legacy by guest curator Oliver Fairclough, Turner to Cézanne features 47 paintings and six important works on paper. By exploring the development of the collection, the exhibition reveals the crosscurrents between artists and movements that propelled 19th-century painting forward from the romantic naturalism of Turner to the Post-Impressionism of Cézanne. The result, said Julia Brown, Director of the American Federation of Arts, will be a visually stunning survey of the evolution of modern art through key examples of the stylistic innovations that shaped the art of the 19th century.
Turner to Cézanne begins with late works by the British master J.M.W. Turner. Two important late oils, Morning after the Wreck (ca. 1840) and The Storm (ca. 184045), plus four watercolors, presage modern painting with their emphasis on loose, painterly brushwork, first-hand observation, and atmospheric effects. In his willingness to break with the mandates of mimesis, or exact copying of nature, Turners approach was nothing short of revolutionary. In The Storm, for instance, parts of the canvas are virtually non-representational. Instead, brushstrokes and the effects of light and color combine to evoke the sense of a tempest at sea. This groundbreaking method would later have a tremendous impact on the Impressionists, particularly on Monet, who studied Turners work during sojourns in London. The influence of Turner is readily apparent in Charing Cross Bridge (1902), one of the three canvases by Monet in the exhibition. As the French artist studied the color and light effects in the work of the British painter, his own brushstroke became increasingly fractured and his palette more tonal.
In France, Turners romantic naturalism was paralleled in the work of the Barbizon School. Breaking from the traditions of classical landscape painting, the Barbizon painters, led by Camille Corot, left their studios to paint en plein air (in open air). Turner to Cézanne will include three examples of this radical new approach by Corot, among them, Distant View of Corbeil (ca. 1870). Here, Corots feathery brushstroke and harmonized palette result in an image that is at once naturalistic and idyllic. Although misunderstood in its own day and perceived as somewhat conservative in ours, the Barbizon School was integral to the rise of modern art. With their emphasis on first-hand experience and their mandate that artists quit the studio and leave biblical and classical subjects behind, Barbizon painters such as Corot opened the door to a new realism in French art.
The Davies sisters initially favored Turner, Barbizon landscapes, and academic genre paintings such as Meissoniers Innocents and Card Sharpers (1861), but they moved toward increasingly progressive art. In 1912, Gwendoline purchased Jean-François Millets unfinished Winter: The Faggot Gatherers (186875), a haunting image of Norman peasants. Winter underscores the many radical changes including a new appreciation of the creative act itself and an elevation of scenes of modern life from secondary to primary importance that propelled French art toward Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.
Another pivotal moment in the history of 19th-century art is represented in the exhibition by Manets Effect of Snow at Petit-Montrouge (1870). This unflinching scene of the destruction in the suburbs of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War (187071) is often described as Manets first Impressionist work. Applying broad, fluid strokes of gray, brown and white directly onto the canvas, the artist perfectly captured the unique half-light of a dreary winters day, an effort that foreshadows the Impressionists interest in effets de neige (snow effects). Following Corots precedent by working on the spot and sur le motif (from the subject with no discernible underdrawing in the work), Effect of Snow at Petit-Montrouge is a first instance of the spontaneity and direct observation that characterizes Impressionism. A few years after acquiring this pivotal work, the Davies sisters purchased Pissarros Pont Neuf, Snow Effect, 2nd Series (1902), a compelling complement to the Manet painting.
The Davies sisters particularly favored Monets late works, such as The Palazzo Dario (1908) and the lyrical Waterlilies (1906). In these paintings, the effects of color, light, and brushstroke combine to form a poetic abstraction that marks the apex of Impressionism. Alongside these lovely landscape and outdoor views, the exhibition includes outstanding examples of Impressionisms emphasis on contemporary life. Primary among these is Pierre-Auguste Renoirs masterpiece La Parisienne (1874), which depicts the beautiful young actress Henriette Henriot directly confronting the viewer with a coquettish gaze. Rather than naming his sitter, Renoir presents her as a social type the beguiling ingénue that one saw at the theater or in the shops and cafes of Paris. With this early canvas, then, Renoir followed the poet Charles Baudelaires mandate that contemporary artists be painters of modern life.
The exhibition culminates with several Post-Impressionist works, including paintings by Cézanne and van Gogh. In 1918, Gwendoline Davies bought Cézannes Provençal Landscape (ca. 1887) and The François Zola Dam (ca. 187788), one of Cézannes most admired paintings. A few years later, she acquired van Goghs magnificent RainAuvers (1890). This evocative image, which dates to the last week of the artists life, conveys a sense of solitude through its open, panoramic composition.
The clear connections among the various works acquired by the Davies sisters, particularly the inclusion of British artists such as Matthew Smith and Robert Bevan, whose work responds to French modernism, suggest an astute and informed understanding of 19th-century painting. From their prescient acquisition of the late Turners to major purchases of Cézanne and van Gogh, it is clear that they thoroughly investigated the major movements of the time.
By focusing on the evolution of their magnificent collection, particularly the manner in which the paintings in it work as counterpoints to each other, Turner to Cézanne offers a richly compelling survey of the art of the 19th century.