Intimate Impressionism Coming to the McNay

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The McNay Art Museum is in line to reap the benefits of displaced masterworks while the famed I.M. Pei-designed East Building of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. undergoes extensive renovations through 2016. San Antonio is one of only five cities to host “Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art.”

This exhibition began its tour in Rome, is currently in San Francisco, and will travel on to Seattle and Tokyo following its stay in San Antonio, Sept. 3, 2014 – Jan. 4, 2015.

This collection is comprised of nearly 70 paintings by 19th century Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masters including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin. These works have never before toured, and once construction is complete, the collection will return to its permanent home. Thus, a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for art aficionados in San Antonio and the greater region.

Most of these pieces came into the possession of the National Gallery as a direct bequest of Alisa Mellon Bruce and Paul Mellon, the children of the museum’s founder, Andrew Mellon. This public and private coalition has cemented the institution’s role as one of the world’s leading repositories of French modernist painting, creating a legacy to emulate and be proud of.

Marion Koogler McNay. Photo courtesy McNay Art Museum.

Marion Koogler McNay. Photo courtesy McNay Art Museum.

A love and appreciation for French Post-Impressionism and the Paris School was at the heart of Marion Koogler McNay’s founding bequest more than 60 years ago, and the museum has successfully built upon this collection with additional acquisitions over the decades. One can’t help but imagine that she would be mightily intrigued with this exhibition. One must also remember that this style of art was revolutionary and iconoclastic in its heyday.

The term “Impressionism” originated with a critic, of course. Louis Leroy was among many things an engraver, a painter and a successful playwright. He was writing for a satirical rag when he disdainfully called out Claude Monet’s Impression: Sunrise for being merely an impression, an unfinished product because of the quick, loose brushstrokes represented — chunks of color, unblended, unrefined — an impression. This piece was exhibited by the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers at the Exposition des Impressionnistes in the photography studio of Nadar in 1874. Of course, the artists adopted this somewhat derogatory description for themselves, and the rest is history.

Let it be noted: Leroy was not remembered for his art.

Auguste Renoir, Madame Monet and Her Son, 1874. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection.

Auguste Renoir, Madame Monet and Her Son, 1874. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection.

The term “intimate” applies in many ways to this collection. The Impressionists tended to paint what was immediate to them. Less formal and contrived than their predecessors, they were painting the landscape or interior as they were immediately living it. Capturing a dancer backstage at the Opera. Capturing a fellow artist’s (translate, friend) wife or child or dog. These were gorgeous quick sketches. The brushstrokes are thick and juicy, working quickly to harness a moment. The artists were expressing their own interests as opposed to the particular interest of a benefactor or patron. Alas, none of them amassed great wealth in their time. We all know the story of the unfortunate and penniless demise of Van Gogh.

Jean Louis Forain, Behind the Scenes, ca. 1880. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Rosenwald Collection.

Jean Louis Forain, Behind the Scenes, ca. 1880. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Rosenwald Collection.

“Intimate” also applies to the scale of these works. They are not grand, palatial pieces. Working quickly and en plein air requires that your work be on the smaller side — quicker to dry, easier to carry. Practical concerns.

And as I think about this, it makes me laugh. Thinking, “It looked so much bigger in the art history text.” And that is because it is big. The expression, the impressions, are oversized in our collective psyche. There is a reason this period is so seemingly commonplace to us. This work originating more than 100 years ago still resonates to this day.

“In an era when many artists favor working on a very large scale, this exhibition gives the public an opportunity to encounter paintings that reward one-on-one looking, offering a personal conversation with the artist,” said William J. Chiego, director of the McNay. “Many of the artists featured in the exhibition are also featured in the McNay’s permanent collection, giving visitors a unique opportunity to see under one roof superb paintings acquired by these remarkable collectors. We’re grateful to the National Gallery of Art for making this exhibit available for us all to enjoy.”

The McNay will, true to form, be staging many opportunities for the community to enjoy this exhibition on many levels including films, concerts, special lectures, workshops and family activities that will appeal to anyone who loves art as well as those who simply enjoy having fun surrounded by beauty. The exhibition will also include a family activity area to entertain and delight children.

Edouard Manet, At the Races, ca. 1875. Oil on wood. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Widener Collection.

Edouard Manet, At the Races, ca. 1875. Oil on wood. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Widener Collection.

Admission to the exhibition will be $10 in addition to the cost of general admission. Of course, for McNay members, admission is free. There will also be extended hours for the duration of the exhibit. For more information about Intimate Impressionism and all the other great goings on at the museum, visit www.mcnayart.org.

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2 thoughts on “Intimate Impressionism Coming to the McNay

  1. What a great honor for the McNay and for the people of San Antonio and surrounding communities. I eagerly look forward to this world-class exhibit!

  2. Enjoyed reading about this. The McNay is possibly the most underrated thing in San Antonio, existing in almost a different dimension than the rest of the city. The National Gallery evidently recognizes this. For having not only an impressive facility, but also a permanent collection that’s arguably better than the Kimbell’s, and of course exhibits like this, McNay should be a household name to art fans nationwide.

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