Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay at the DeYoung Museum

Bedroom at Arles by Vincent Van Gogh and
Self Portrait with Yellow Christ by Paul Gauguin
from the DeYoung Museum

Following "Birth of Impressionism" at the DeYoung Museum is another standout exhibition of masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

"Post-Impressionist Masterpieces" picks up where "Birth of Impressionism" left off, and it is equally enlightening.

"Birth of Impressionism" showed the transition during late 19th Century France from a formal, classical style of painting into a revolutionary new way of seeing, perceiving and expressing in paint.

The Impressionists (including Monet, Renoir, Manet and Degas) broke away from the classical tradition that emphasized form, structure, weight and stability.

The Impressionists sought to show the ever-changing, flickering, sparkling qualities of light; the soft textures and sensual pleasures of nature; and a sense of movement and grace in subjects like dancers, performers and women. 

With the experimentation of the Impressionists, we see painting lightening and loosening up, becoming playful. 

We see visible brushstrokes that are expressive and full of life.

We see somber, shadowy shades give way to brighter pastel colors that are more lighthearted.

Replacing rigidly-posed compositions with a lot of detail, we begin to see blurred subjects in motion, who we can't quite bring into focus.

It's quite interesting to see the paintings and realize how much happened within a very short timeline.

From 1860 to 1900, from the birth of Impressionism to post-Impressionism, European art went from classical to modern.

I managed to spend 2 hours at the DeYoung, getting re-acquainted with the "Post-Impressionist Masterpieces" that I hadn't seen since visiting the Musee d'Orsay in Paris in 1998.

Vincent Van Gogh
"Starry Night Over the Rhone"
image from DeYoung Museum

I remember how stunned I was when I first saw original Van Gogh paintings at the Musee d'Orsay. 

I was familiar with his famous paintings from seeing them in books, but I didn't really understand what the hype was about.

Only when I saw the original paintings in person did I experience the power of Van Gogh.

There is no one like Van Gogh. 

His paintings pulsate with intensity and passion that you can feel.

Paul Gauguin
image from DeYoung Museum 

Gauguin, Van Gogh's friend, seduces with the warm colors of the tropics (even in scenes of Brittany), lovely patterns and mysterious symbols.

His work seems so exotic and original.

Paul Signac
"Women at the Well"
image from DeYoung Museum

Following in the footsteps of artists like Renoir and Monet, Neo-Impressionism continued experimenting with breaking down forms and objects and dissolving outlines.

Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and others invented techniques like pointillism (painting with dots) and optical mixing (using dots of different colors next to each other, that the eye will perceive as blended colors).

These pointillist paintings are effective at portraying the dazzling quality of light in the sky and sea.

Paul Cezanne
Still Life with Onions
image from DeYoung Museum

Cezanne's landscapes and still lifes begin to bring back form and a sense of solidity, in the manner of the Impressionists, with soft colors in a subtle rhythmic pattern across the entire painting.

Picasso's revolutionary Cubist work smashes apart reality and puts it back together in a way that doesn't make sense, making us question our perception of how we see.

European art travels into completely new territory.

It's an extraordinary story, one that has to be seen, to be believed.

This exhibit was on display at the DeYoung Museum September 25, 2010 through January 18, 2011.