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Indepth Arts News:

"Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860-1890"
2000-11-01 until 2001-01-28
National Gallery
London, , UK United Kingdom

The exhibition brings together some 70 works by the leading Impressionist masters, tracing the development of rapid painting, and examining the risks involved, over the course of three decades. In the 1860s Edouard Manet began to paint - and, audaciously, to sign and exhibit as finished works - canvases in which he exploited the speed and immediacy characteristic of oil sketches. His example was taken up by a generation of innovative and admiring younger artists, including Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley, all of whom, at one or more points in their careers, turned their hand to rapid, improvisatory painting.

Art history generally ... has neglected the hand. ... The aim of this exhibition is to reopen the question of manual dexterity and to reconsider the physical intelligence of artists by directly confronting paintings that are, in themselves, direct. Thus writes Richard R. Brettell, guest curator, in his preface to the catalogue that accompanies Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860-1890.

For Brettell, some of the most daring Impressionist paintings are virtuoso performances, improvisations on canvas where the artists display their skill in evoking form and light with quick, deft touches of colour.

Not all their works were in fact executed quickly; some may have involved several sessions. However, they were meant to look as if they had been dashed off in the white heat of inspiration.

The exhibition includes one of Renoirs finest landscapes, a view of a humble hillside at Wargemont where the artist visited friends in the summer of 1879. The composition is composed of veils of thin colour lightly and quickly washed across the canvas in long, looping strokes. Although the means are simple, nonetheless Renoir brilliantly evokes both the undulating form of the hillside and the warm, moist atmosphere of a summer afternoon. It gives the powerful impression that Renoir observed nature and as he did so transcribed it to canvas almost without conscious thought or analysis, but with that intelligence of the hand Brettell describes.

The exhibition is organised by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, in association with the National Gallery, London, and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Detail from Claude-Oscar Monet,
Regatta at Argenteuil,
Paris, Musée dOrsay.

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