Sunday, July 1, 2018

Met Museum: Public Parks, Private Gardens

The current exhibit at the Met Museum, Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence, consisting of dozens of paintings, graphic works and photographs, is a wonderful evocation of summer's luah beauty staged ironically in windowless galleries that afford no view of the world's most beautiful park situated immediately outside their walls.

The late nineteenth century works on display, entirely drawn from the museum's extensive collections, are all by French artusts (with the exception of the American expatriate Mary Cassatt and Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch artist who created his most important work while living in Provence), most of them prominent members of the Impressionist school.  In fact, the best represented artist is Claude Monet, a number of whose masterpieces are here on view - The Path through the Irises (oil on canvas, 1914-1917), Bridge over a Pond of Waterlilies (oil on canvas, 1899), and Garden at Sainte-Adresse (oil on canvas, 1867) - as well as several lesser known works, such as Jean Monet on his Hobby-Horse (oil on canvas, 1872).  Édouard Manet is represented by Madame Manet at Bellevue (oil on canvas, 1880), Peonies (oil on canvas, 1864-1865) and The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil (oil on canvas, 1874).  There are two excellent paintings by Camille Pissaro on view - The Garden of the Tuileries on a Winter Afternoon (oil on canvas, 1899) and The Public Garden at Pointoise (oil on canvas, 1874).  And certainly the exhibit would not have been complete without the post-Impressionist Georges Seurat's final 1884 study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, an oil on canvas of much smaller dimensions than the famous mural-size painting but using the same pointillist technique.

There are also a number of works by artists one would not normally associate with the theme of parks and gardens.  These include Odilon Redon's portrait of Madame Arthur Fontaine (pastel on paper, 1901) and Bouquet of Flowers (pastel on paper, 1900-1905), Berthe Morisot's Young Woman Seated on a Sofa (oil on canvas, 1879) and A Woman Seated at a Bench on the Avenue du Bois (watercolor over graphite, 1885), Pierre Bonnard's From the Balcony (oil on canvas, 1909), Auguste Renoir's Bouquet of Chrysanthemums (oil on canvas, 1881) and Versailles (oil on canvas, 1900-1905), Henri Matisse's Pansies (oil on paper, 1903) and Lilacs (oil on canvas, 1914), Mary Cassatt's Lilacs in a Window (oil on canvas, 1880-1883) and Edgar Degas's A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers (oil on canvas, 1865).  Those who've read Curtis Cate's biography of George Sand will enjoy seeing Eugène Delacroix's 1843 oil on canvas view of the novelist's garden at Nohant, a truly dark masterpiece.

One would not expect to see many works by the father of modernism, Paul Cézanne, at an exhibit such as this, but there are actually several seminal masterworks on display.  These include Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory (oil on canvas, 1891), The Pool at Jas de Bouffan (oil on canvas, 1885-1886) and Entrée de Jardin (watercolor over graphite, 1878-1880).

By far, the most spectacular work on view is Van Gogh's Sunflowers, an 1887 oil on canvas that once belonged to Paul Gauguin, given to him by the artist himself.  Done in Van Gogh's heavy impasto style there is something monstrous in this flower's beauty that makes the painting much more than a mere study done from nature.  Though the canvas is not particularly large (17" x 24"), it overwhelms the viewer with its power and takes on the majesty of a force of nature.  On view beside it is the artist's Irises, an 1890 oil on canvas whose black outlines owe much to Japanese ukiyo-e and whose stark grey background was once pink before having faded over time.  Fortuitously placed nearby is Monet's Bouquet of Sunflowers (oil on canvas, 1881) that highlights the differences between Van Gogh and the Impressionists when approaching the same subject.  Although Van Gogh and Monet painted their versions of sunflowers only a few years apart, the Dutch artist's work strikes one as more properly belonging to a far later era.

As a photographer, I was especially pleased to see so many classic prints on display.  These included two salt prints by Gustave Le Gray, Oak Tree and Rocks at the Forest of Fontainebleau and Chêne dans les rochers à Fontainebleau, both c. 1849-1852.  There were also several albumen prints by Eugène Atget, that great chronicler of fin de siècle Paris - Jardin du Luxembourg (1902), Versaille - Cour du Parc (1902) and the magnificent Le Château, fin Octobre, le soir, effet d'orage, vue prise du Parterre du Nord (1903).  There was also a wonderful flower study, Rose of Sharon (albumen print, 1854), by Adolphe Braun as well as Charles Nègre's portrait of Lord Brougham and his family at Cannes (albumen print, 1862).

The exhibit continues through July 29, 2018.