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Arts and Entertainment


Impressionist Landscapes at Akron Art Museum
An unusual mix of French and American painters
by WKSU's MARK URYCKI


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Mark Urycki
 
Frederick C. Frieseke, Through the vines, around 1908
Courtesy of Akron Art Museum
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After visiting eleven museums in ten states, an exhibition of French Impressionist paintings is making its final stop in Akron.

“Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism" includes 38 paintings assembled by the Brooklyn Museum, but the Akron Art Museum has added 15 of its own for the final show. It makes for an unusual pairing of  French and American impressionist painters. WKSU’s Mark Urycki took a tour of the show.

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Gloria Groom of Chicago Art Institute on Camille Pissarro's  "Chemin montant, rue de la Côte-du-Jalet, Pontoise" (The Climb) , 1875


Gloria Groom of Chicago Art Institute on Camille Pissarro's "Chemin montant, rue de la Côte-du-Jalet, Pontoise" (The Climb) , 1875

Akron Art Museum's Ellen Rudolph on Claude Monet's "Les Iles à Port-Villez" (The Islets at Port-Villez), 1897


Akron Art Museum's Ellen Rudolph on Claude Monet's "Les Iles à Port-Villez" (The Islets at Port-Villez), 1897

Akron Art Museum's Ellen Rudolph on John Singer Sargent's  "Dolce Far Niente," around 1907


Akron Art Museum's Ellen Rudolph on John Singer Sargent's "Dolce Far Niente," around 1907

Gloria Groom likes the view of Gustave Courbet's  "La Vague" (The Wave), around 1869 next to the contemporary sculpture "Landslide: Between a Rock and a Place" by Michelle Droll


Gloria Groom likes the view of Gustave Courbet's "La Vague" (The Wave), around 1869 next to the contemporary sculpture "Landslide: Between a Rock and a Place" by Michelle Droll

Ellen Rudolph on American painter Childe Hassam's "Poppies on the Isles of Shoals," 1890


Ellen Rudolph on American painter Childe Hassam's "Poppies on the Isles of Shoals," 1890

(Click image for larger view.)

Impressionist art may look gorgeous to our eyes but Gloria Groom, the curator for 19th Century European paintings at the Chicago Art Institute, says it was considered pretty off-putting when it was new.

“Impressionism was an affront to what everyone thought art should be. Obviously, the reason they were called impressionist was that everyone thought they are just sketching it out and they’re leaving them in a sketch stage. It’s an impression; it’s not a tableau; it’s not a finished painting.”

The Impressionists’ first show was in Paris in 1874. But they had been slowly emerging years earlier. And you can see this transition of style in a single room in Akron. Art museum curator Ellen Rudolph points out how impressionism was influenced by a group of artists known as the Barbizon School. 

 “They were planting the seeds for the idea of painting outside or en plein air and directly observing nature. So, as opposed to painting historical scenes or mythological scenes that include angels and that sort of thing, these are paintings of what the artists were seeing in the countryside.”

Industrialization
There was something new in the air. Soot perhaps. The new industrialization in France not only changed the look of the landscape, it quickened the pace of life. And it created a new leisure class, the bourgeoisie.

Rudolph: “Look at this Daubigny painting, ‘The River Seine at Mont.’ We see this beautiful scene with a bourgeois-looking woman standing by the river with a fishing rod. And we see a small town in the backdrop with a cathedral. But then we also see billowing smokestacks of a factory just on the other side of the cathedral. So the artist is not idealizing the scene.”  

Not only is there a lack of grandiose allegorical landscapes, there are fewer large canvases. The impressionists wanted smaller canvases to carry outside, in the wind.

The next room features the pinnacle of impressionism with works by Monet, Pissarro and Caillebotte. Paint strokes and colors are big and bold, so a viewer might have to stand back to see it blend together. 

These new artists blended together as well to market themselves. They didn’t have the art speculators we have today, but the Chicago Art Institute’s Gloria Groom says they had the new leisure class.

”There was a new class of art collectors and that had to do with people who came from nowhere and had money from businesses and were now getting interested in art because that was a way to show their culture.”

Groom says only the impressionists who lived long enough to see their radical style gain acceptance were able to cash in.

American interest
Oddly, American collectors were more interested than the French, says Ellen Rudolph.

”U.S. collectors were even more embracing of Impressionism than French collectors were so the European dealers set up shop in New York City and Boston and were quite successful with their impressionism sales and exhibitions. That is where most Americans were exposed to Impressionist paintings."

One of those American collectors was B.F. Goodrich executive Edwin Shaw. He helped found the Akron Art Institute by donating his collection. 

The Akron show includes American painters such as John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam and Julian Weir. Some of their landscapes were painted in France, but others are more obviously American scenes like Robert Spencer’s The White Tenement.

Ellen Rudolph: “A thread factory, Central Park, subjects you wouldn’t think of a being worthy of an impressionist landscape painting."

In a bow to the bourgeois leisure pursuits of the day, the Akron Art Museum has set up chess and checker games in the last gallery. Visitors can also pinpoint where in Europe or the United States each work was painted with a large map that has been constructed on one wall.

Most of the paintings will return to the Brooklyn Museum when the exhibition, “Landscapes in the Age of Impressionism,” closes in early February.  

 

 


Related Links & Resources
Akron Art Museum

Brooklyn Museum

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