Sunday, February 12, 2012

Renoir to Chagall: The Allure of Color in Louisville

Speed Art Museum
      The Speed Art Museum on the University of Louisville campus has a comprehensive collection that covers the major periods of art of the last 
Hans Arp Sculpture
five hundred years.  There are a couple of beautiful works by Hans (Jean) Arp and Ida Lansky in the upper level.  It also presents some intriguing exhibitions, the latest being Renoir to Chagall:  Paris and the Allure of Color.  It runs until May 6 and it’s worth checking out.  It consists of ninety pieces so it’s possible to thoroughly cover both it and the museum in a couple of hours.  

Dexter Guards the Entrance to the Exhibit
Dancer Adjusting Her Shoes
by Edgar Degas

      “Paris and the allure of color” is a misnomer.  The major subjects (figures in exteriors and interiors, landscapes, seascapes, and still-lifes) and painters are all in evidence.  Monet and Degas are still incredible even with only a couple of examples of their work, but Renoir is horribly over-rated because his half dozen great works aren’t on display.  It’s ‘the others’ that make up the bulk of the
pieces and the focus on the also-rans is very revealing because, in their time, tastemakers and the public probably loved their work, while art historians have left it in the basement.  

Portrait of Madeleine, the Artist's Sister
by Emile Bernard
      Emile Bernard’s portrait of his sister Madeleine is both ambivalent in its attitude – he must have been both in awe of her and ticked off by her – and a precursor to Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein.  Gaston La Touche’s The Joyous Festival  is heroic in scale and the fireworks are luminescent, almost like Day-Glo a hundred years earlier.  The people in it are young, exuberant, and somehow aware that this is a moment that will pass, which was one of the main themes of Impressionism.  Vuillard’s Madame Hessel in Her Room emphasizes the setting over the portrait through a technique that blurs Madame, but points up the vibrancy of the room through its intensity.  Boudin and Dufy’s works are arresting.  One painting leapt off the wall, though I didn’t know the artist at first.  And then, almost without saying, I realized it was Matisse.  On the other hand,
Carnations in a
Champagne Glass

by Henri Latour
an artist I’d never previously seen before and who was probably more of a Salon painter than an Impressionist was Henri Latour.  His realistic – almost commercially illustrative – floral and fruit paintings were lovely.  That type of discovery makes an exhibition like this so worthwhile.

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