DC’s National Gallery of Art has reopened its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist galleries, filled with about 400 paintings by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, van Gogh, Gauguin, and other 19th century French masters.
The National Gallery (NGA) celebrated the reopening January 28 and 29 with concerts of French music from the late 19th century, curator talks, and a film, (Jean) Renoir’s classic “French CanCan”. Admission and all events are free.
The appearance of these rooms, closed for two years of renovation, has changed very little.
But the new arrangement organizes the renowned works in various fresh ways, including themes, such as “Bohemian Paris”, “A Literary Approach”, “Exoticism”, and “Intimate Impressionism” — where the only two women artists are sequestered.
The good news is that the often overshadowed women Impressionists, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, are highlighted. Even better, Cassatt, an American, is represented with six works, including her well-known “The Loge”, “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair”, and “The Boating Party”. Morisot’s sole painting is “The Mother and Sister of the Artist”.
“Intimate Impressionism” showcases “avant-garde artists who explored domestic interiors and the world of women: mothers and sisters, wives and daughters, housemaids and laundresses,” says an unobtrusive sign. A room of their own? Ah, well, it’s the 19th century…
The room includes the newly restored Monet portrait of his newborn son Jean in his cradle, and several Degas portraits of women, most notably “Madame Camus”, amid a background of luscious deep orange. This gallery also features one of the most overlooked of all Impressionist painters, Gustave Caillebotte, with one work, “Skiffs”.
Exoticism” features works inspired by North Africa’s “culture of warmth, vibrant color, and sensuality.” Two odalisques are among the many standouts. Renoir’s “Odalisque”, swathed in opulent embroidered fabrics, reclines against a fluffy pillow as she stares seductively at the viewer. Matisse’s “Odalisque with Arms Raised, Green Striped Chair” perches suggestively, and wears only a diaphanous skirt slung low on her hips.
Speaking of exotic, one room has several of Gauguin’s most famous French Polynesian works, including his “Self-Portrait” as both a devil and angel, “Words of the Devil”, and “By the Sea”. Several were seen in the NGA’s magnificent exhibit last year, “Gauguin: Maker of Myth”. His biggest myth was himself — “My terrible self which oppresses me.”
He would cringe at sharing a room, which he does with van Gogh and (late) Degas, grouped together because each artist was so bold in his experimentation.
Cézanne and Monet are the only two with rooms of their own. The small, intimate Monet room is so packed with scenes of London, the Rouen Cathedral, and his Giverny garden that it’s breath-taking, almost dizzying, despite familiarity with these series.
Another room has the most famed of the famed Impressionist works, including Renoir’s “Girl with a Hoop” and Monet’s “Bridge at Argenteuil”.
That Monet classic, and Renoir’s “Girl with a Watering Can” are among the 13 paintings that were restored during the two-year closure.
One newly acquired painting will be on view for the first time, Gustave Courbet’s “Black Rocks at Trouville”.
Music from the special weekend concerts in the East Garden Court could be heard softly in several galleries, further enriching the experience.
Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, and Auguste Renoir had an especially keen interest in music, the program explains. Renoir was a star choir boy in the church choir led by Charles Gounod, represented in the concerts by two sacred works and a chorus from “Faust”. Other composers in the special concerts include Berlioz, Fauré, Debussy, and Massenet.
The other related events include:
On Sunday, January 29 at 2 PM, Mary Morton, NGA’s curator and head of the department of French paintings, gives a lecture “Nineteenth-Century Redux: A New Look at a Great Collection of French Paintings” in the auditorium in the East Building Concourse.
Then at 3 PM, other curators from NGA’s French paintings department will hold a question-and-answer session in the galleries on the first floor of the West Building.
Visit these galleries to immerse yourself in the exquisite beauty of 19th century France, especially Paris.
For more info: National Gallery of Art, www.nga.gov, Constitution Avenue and 4th Street, NW, Washington, DC, 202-737-4215. Free admission.