With The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark, the Kimbell Art Museum presents the first-ever international touring exhibition of masterpieces from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
The Clark is best known for its holdings in French Impressionist painting, which include over thirty works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The seventy-three paintings in the exhibition include twenty-one by Renoir, along with four by Edgar Degas, two by Edouard Manet, six by Claude Monet, two by Berthe Morisot, seven by Camille Pissarro, and four by Alfred Sisley. Accompanying these will be works by other prominent French painters of the period, including William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Camille Corot, Paul Gauguin, Jean-Léon Gérome, Jacques-Joseph Tissot, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Many are celebrated masterpieces that visitors will recognize from reproductions even if they have never made the pilgrimage to Williamstown to see them in the flesh.
The exhibition offers not only a feast of French nineteenth-century painting but also an insight into the personality and taste of the remarkable collectors who founded the Clark Art Institute. Sterling Clark was an heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune. Active from the 1910s to the 1950s, he and his wife Francine assembled an outstanding collection of paintings, sculpture, and drawings, as well as British silver and European porcelain. Their range extended not only to Impressionism, but also to Renaissance paintings and to American works, one of the most famous of which is John Singer Sargent's Fumée d'Ambre Gris, an early venture in "Orientalist" subject matter. They founded the Clark Art Institute as a showcase for their collection in 1955. Although the Clark's holdings have been expanded greatly since then, notably through the addition of a growing collection of early photography, its scope and character continue to represent the interests of the founders.
Among the highlights of The Age of Impressionism is one of the most beautiful of Degas's behind-the-scenes paintings of ballet dancers, Dancers in the Classroom, its off-centered composition reflecting the artist's love of Japanese woodblock prints. The scintillating landscape paintings most closely associated with the Impressionist movement––with their near-magical re-creation of natural light effects––are strongly represented by such works as Monet'sThe Cliffs at Étretat. The Renoirs are virtually an exhibition within the exhibition, representing the range of his subject matter and the evolution of his style from the 1870s to the 1890s. They include some of the most sensuous and seductive of all his works––unabashed celebrations of youth and beauty such as A Box at the Theater and Child with a Bird.
Meanwhile, paintings such as Gérome's The Snake Charmer give a sense of the smooth realism and high "finish" beloved of more conservative taste during the Impressionist era. It is to the credit of the Clarks that they were open to such artists as well as to the Impressionist avant-garde who were their greatest passion. "Academic, yes, tight, yes," Sterling Clark said of the Gérome, "but what drawing and mastery of the art."
Set amidst 140 bucolic acres in the picturesque Berkshires, the Clark is now both a major art museum and a leading center for research and scholarship. It offers an international fellowship program and regular conferences, symposia, and colloquia. The occasion for the present exhibition is the launch of a further phase in its ongoing campus expansion program, during which the paintings would otherwise have had to be put into storage.
The exhibition is touring for a period of three years (2011–14) and will be shown at major venues in Italy, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and China. The Kimbell is its only American venue. At the Kimbell it follows in a series of exhibitions that celebrate the great Impressionist collections of the world, from the landmark presentation of the Barnes Collection in 1994 to the exclusive showing of the Art Institute of Chicago's Impressionist holdings in 2008.
The 240-page catalogue that accompanies the exhibition features essays by James A. Ganz and Richard R. Brettell. Ganz provides an introduction to the life and collecting of Sterling Clark, and Brettell discusses the Clarks in relation to other great American collectors of the early twentieth century. The catalogue is published by Skira Rizzoli, New York.
Waiting for a list of the works that will actually be in the exhibition....current description is a tease without pictures:
"The 73 paintings in the exhibition include 22 Renoirs and 6 Monets, along with works by Degas, Manet, Pissarro, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Bonnard. Among them are some of the most familiar masterpieces of the Impressionist era."