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Yesterday's modern woman: the French Masters' take on the fairer sex--19th-century style ...

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IN THE FIRST exhibition of drawings ever ,to travel from the distinguished collection of the Musee d'Orsay, Paris, "The Modern Woman" brings together nearly 100 works by celebrated 19th-century French artists, including Pierre Bonnard, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot, Odilon Redon, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Seurat, and many more.

The exhibit explores how artists at this watershed moment in art history departed radically from tradition to capture a sense of the "modem" in their work. With a focus on the female subject, the exhibition presents drawings that reflect the dramatic evolution of artistic practice, as well as the increasing independence of women in French society during this era. It offers a spectacular overview of late-19th century French drawing--a fascinating and tumultuous period of social, economic, and political transformation--and a tangible connection to the creative impulses of the most prominent artists working at the time.

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In the mid 1800s, French artists started to aim away from the formal portraits, landscapes, and historical scenes that had dominated the country's art for centuries, and began to take inspiration from everyday experiences. Presenting drawings that capture the spirit of Paris' dynamic urban life, the exhibit includes startlingly direct portraits, intimate domestic scenes, and cityscapes that demonstrate the artists' deep connection to their subjects. Women are central in the drawings and are pictured in a variety of contexts: sitting for portraits; strolling the city streets; frequenting cafes; or glimpsed in the privacy of their boudoir, seemingly unaware of the artist's presence.

"What came together when selecting these drawings ... was bow intimately and vividly the artists captured the complexity of the Belle Epoque [Beautiful Era] and the women who inhabited it," says Thomas Padon, one of the exhibition's three commissioners.

Remarkable portraits by artists such as Manet and Gustave Courbet show young girls and women, often anonymous sitters, depicted with an increased complexity and level of independence. Bonnard, Seurat, Henri Fantin-Latour, and others portray women alone, in the privacy of their home, reading or knitting with quiet intensity. Other artists, such as Rodin, Morisot, and Maurice Denis, display innovation by depicting nude or partly nude women in domestic interiors. Yet other artists, including Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, capture, with brilliant insight, the patrons and performers at the cafes and theaters, which became such a popular fixture in Parisian society at this time. Finally, a group of artists, including Gauguin, Pissarro, Jean-Francois Millet, and Eugene Boudin seek inspiration outside the city, providing works of women ranging from Breton peasants to elaborately dressed tourists at fashionable new seaside resorts.

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During this era of radical change, innovations in technique rivaled those of subject matter. Artists during this period established drawing as a fully realized artistic practice, rather than a method of preparation for other pursuits, such as sculpture or painting. This development coincided with new drawing materials, including synthetic charcoal as well as colored pencils and pastels, which allowed artists to create highly atmospheric compositions mirroring the psychological state of their subjects. The drawings in the exhibition provide a comprehensive look at the various techniques favored by artists of the period.

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One particular highlight is a spectacular group of pastels--works that rarely are exhibited because of their fragility. "The revival of pastel in the mid 19th century inspired a number of artists to experiment with the medium, creating chromatically radiant drawings," points out Padon. "Degas, Manet, and Redon, in particular, used pastel with visceral intensity to capture fleeting moments in the lives of the women they depicted."

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"The Modern Woman: Drawings by Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Other Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay, Paris" is on view through Sept. 6 at the Vancouver Art Gallery--its sole venue--providing a unique opportunity for North American audiences to experience rarely seen drawings, many of which never before have traveled beyond Paris.
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Title Annotation:Museums Today; The Modern Woman exhibit in Musee d'Orsay, France
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jul 1, 2010
Words:654
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