Countless Impressionist exhibitions in the United States and abroad have offered museumgoers the chance to fully
appreciate one artist's career, to immerse themselves in favorite landscapes, or to marvel at the great and diverse
collections of Impressionist masterpieces amassed by discerning connoisseurs. The exhibition Faces of
Impressionism: Portraits from American Collections will give visitors to the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA)
an intimate view of these artists' lives through paintings of people whose stories are entwined with theirs. Fifty-nine
paintings by 15 artists are included. Four have been added for the Cleveland showing only. More than 30 public
and private collections across the United States, including the CMA, are represented.
CMA director Katharine Lee Reid explained the appeal of this particular show: What we get to see in this
exhibition is the Impressionists tackling the grand European tradition of portraiture with their revolutionary
painting vocabulary and their inclination to spontaneity. The paintings are compelling not only because the subjects
are people — unique human beings just like ourselves — but because most of them reveal the artists' perspectives
on their relatives and closest friends.
First Major Exhibition to Survey Impressionists Making Portraits
Impressionism is best known for light-filled paintings of Paris and the French countryside, but the Impressionists
also explored portrait painting, both following tradition and breaking with it. They sometimes accepted
commissions to paint subjects in flattering poses, such as Renoir's Romaine Lacaux or Marie-Thérèse
Durand-Ruel Sewing (selected for the exhibition's catalogue cover). More often they captured friends and family
engaged in everyday activities. The paintings in Faces of Impressionism range from individual and group portraits
to figures in landscapes and self-portraits; they date from about 1855 to about 1905.
Sylvain Bellenger, CMA's curator of 19th-century European painting, is overseeing the exhibition at its Cleveland
venue. Asked what will be most important and memorable to visitors to Faces of Impressionism, he said:
I believe this show will make people think more of these great painters as intensely original
masters, not as members of a 'movement.' Their solidarity was in their struggle against the same
cause — the academy they viewed as stagnant or frozen — rather than for a common cause.
When they focused on people, they faced the particular constraints of portrait painting: its
exhaustive exploration by their predecessors among Western painters from the Renaissance
onward, and their own audience's expectations of resemblance to a person.
Each artist spent hours and hours in the Louvre studying its many masterpieces, but their resulting works are
intensely original. Their personal quests for unique, modern expressions of portraiture led their inventive minds
down distinctive paths, giving us the particular interest of Degas in Renaissance portraiture and later in the
movement of dancers; echoes of the Spanish school in Manet and of England's Turner in Monet; or Cézanne's
psychologically bereft sitters (whom he seemed to approach not much differently than apples or Mont Ste.
Victoire). Cassatt's mother-and-child images hardly ever depict actual mothers with their own children, but they are,
in my view, the modern descendants of many affectionate Madonnas.