Mahjabeen Syed highlights a "one week only" exhibition of works on paper by Camille Pissarro at L’Alliance Française de Chicago, on view through September 24, 2015. Dana Gordon argued for the Pissarro's importance in his article Justice to Pissarro, published in 2013 on Painters' Table.
Greenwalk writes: "Though Caillebotte painted numerous views of Haussmann’s Paris, 'Paris Street, Rainy Day' is the showstopper. In a letter to Monet, Caillebotte wrote 'the very great artists attach you even more to life.' And in this work he seems to achieve that ambition. The thoughtfully composed street scene of umbrella-holding Parisians seems naturally cropped, as though an umbrella is framing our viewpoint, too. A vivid green lamppost creates a strong vertical axis in the center of the canvas. Chimneys receding into the distance look like musical notes against the sky, adding a silent score to the rainy day picture."
Julian Bell reviews the exhibition Cézanne and the Modern at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, on view through June 22, 2014.
"A tree trunk heads upwards, reaching for light. Cézanne’s pencil follows it. There is a line in nature and now there is a line on the sheet. But no, that won’t do. Stuff buffets the line sideways, Cézanne decides: here it will have to fall back, breaking like a rank under fire; and there, hatchings and dabs of wash must push the front forward. What stuff? ‘More nature’ might be one answer: the sunlight and foliage among which the trunk rises up. That would be an Impressionist answer, insofar as Impressionists believed in ambiences rather than bounded bodies. But with Cézanne, the sheet itself is trumps. Every challenge to the paper’s continuity must be checked. Clean verticals threaten its integrity: chop them, skew them. So much for the tree trunk and where it wanted to go.... The heart of this show is impossibility – ‘Will I reach the goal I’ve sought so hard?’ as Cézanne lamented – at its most mythically triumphant, a Mont Sainte-Victoire canvas painted shortly before his death. It’s a melodrama of the innocent eye – let nameless thereness become nameless paint! – and what it has to do with truth, I’m not sure. But certain myths prove too grand to resist for long."
Stephanie Strasnick previews the upcoming exhibition Degas/Cassatt at The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., on view from May 1 - October 5, 2014.
The show examines the artistic dialogue between the two artists. One example, Strasnick writes is that both artists [experimented] with unconventional media such as tempera, distemper, and metallic paints. In Degas’s Portrait after a Costume Ball (Portrait of Mme. Dietz-Monnin), for instance, the artist juxtaposed patches of smooth, matte pigment with wide strokes of metallic paint and delicate applications of pastel to create a textural and frenetic surface. Cassatt tested these materials as well in works like Woman Standing, Holding a Fan and Lydia Seated on a Porch, Crocheting. She also used metallics to add a subtle sheen to oil paint. In The Loge, she incorporated small bits of shimmering, simulated gold paint throughout the canvas to vitalize the scene... It is a common misconception that Cassatt was merely a pupil of Degas, when in fact both artists learned from and respected one another, and executed daring experiments using unconventional materials."
Schwabsky writes: "The brilliance of some of Whistler’s work—perhaps even more in his prints than in his paintings—and the radicality of his ideas makes it inevitable to wonder why his accomplishment seems so much smaller than that of his great French contemporaries. Sutherland doesn’t speculate about the reasons for this. These days it’s hard to remember that Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl caused a bigger uproar at the Salon des Refusés of 1863 than Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe, or that Monet was more influenced by Whistler than vice-versa. The delicacy of Whistler’s perceptions and his willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of harmony make for an art less bracing than that of Degas or Pissarro. And yet how much life there is in his little Thames riverscapes. Perhaps we need another major exhibition—there hasn’t been one for twenty years—to re-evaluate him."
Robinson writes that "the real treasures in the show come from the hand of Degas. Here we see five fine works, all depicting the ballet. These pieces appear both ancient and startlingly modern: ancient because although the Ballet is the 'subject,' the works really point at more universal concerns of physicality, gesture and the unspoken realm of body language. Like other great draftsmen such as the cave painters of Chauvet, Michelangelo, Ingres, or Kitaj more recently, Degas is able to conjure a physical and emotional response to his works. The movement of the bodies, diversity of touch, and brilliance of pictorial invention activate and provoke us as viewers. Degas used pastel in a free way, constantly changing his approach to suit the needs of a particular work."
Xico Greenwald reviews the exhibition Pissarro at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, on view through September 15, 2013.
Greenwald writes: "Working in the countryside on the outskirts of Paris, Pissarro’s landscapes examine various lighting and weather conditions with a naturalism that sets him apart from his colleagues. Because he faithfully studied the play of light and shadow throughout the seasons, Pissarro changed his palette and the size of his stroke to suit the scene he was depicting, painting quickly or slowly, colors sometimes muted, sometimes vivid. As a result, Pissarro’s works do not have the easily recognized style of Renoir or Monet. Writing about his faithful depiction of nature, Émile Zola said that in Pissarro’s landscapes 'one hears the profound voices of the earth and feels the powerful life of the trees.'"
Jed Perl reviews the exhibition Impressionists on the Water at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, on view through October 13, 2013.
Perl writes: "These nineteenth-century artists brought an almost scientific attention to the study of nature. And what they found was that the closer they looked at the world, the stranger the world became. For painters, water could become the ultimate conundrum, both visible and nearly invisible, a sight that confounds sight." Perl continues noting that "what makes 'Impressionists on the Water' a success is the confidence with which the curators stay inside the story they’re telling, keeping the plot line simple enough that the paintings emerge with their subtlety and complexity intact."
Barry Schwabsky reviews the exhibition Degas' Method at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, on view through September 1, 2013.
Schwabsky writes that the show "focuses on [Degas'] aesthetic premises and representational strategies as they cut across medium, motif and the artist’s career... And yet, allergic as he was to the idea of method, of devising a formula and then unfailingly applying it, Degas was nothing if not methodical, working with great diligence and intense application. He disavowed impulse and extemporization as much as he did method. 'I assure you,' he liked to say, 'no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament…I know nothing.' The key is repetition: 'It is necessary to execute a motif ten times, a hundred times. Nothing in art must look accidental.' "
Schwabsky also finds a contemporary in the work of Merlin James: "Like Degas, [James] emphasizes his attachment to tradition... And yet for all his supposed traditionalism, James takes no aspect of painting for granted."
Editor's Note: Painting is a conversation, and talking about the future always involves new ways of discussing the past. As inspired by our canonized masters as we may be, we must recognize when their influence begins to hold us back as much as it once spurred us on and look beyond the old heroes to previously unrecognized or overlooked models.
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.