Trois expositions impressionnistes : Rouen, Caen, Honfleur

Three exhibitions on Impressionism : Rouen, Caen, Honfleur

Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts from 4 June to 26 September 2010 : A City for Impressionism Monet, Pissarro and Gauguin in Rouen

Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts from 4 June to 5 September 2010 : Impressionist Engravings. Treasures from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France from Manet to Renoir

Honfleur, Musée Eugène Boudin from 3 June to 6 September 2010 : Honfleur, between Tradition and Modernism 1820-1900

1. Louis Français (1814-1897)
Beeches of the Côst of Grâce, near Honfleur ;
, 1859
Oil on canvas – 300 x 244 cm
Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Didier Rykner

True, the festival, “Normandie Impressioniste” is above all a marketing ploy, a communications operation promoted by Laurent Fabius under the sponsorship of Pierre Bergé and Jérôme Clément. The exhibitions organized for the occasion were cause for doubt given that they were motivated for political rather than artistic reasons. Our worries were in large part foundless. Of the three exhibitions we managed to visit during a press tour, two are of excellent quality and only one slightly average. Until we see some of the other retrospectives included in this event (we also saw the one at Giverny, see our article), the results are on the whole very satisfactory.

A few brief remarks concerning the exhibition at the Musée Eugène Boudin in Honfleur. This replaces for the moment part of the permanent collections and is subjected to the rather mediocre layout available at the museum. Instead of using the walls, a natural support for displaying paintings, boxes have been set up for the hang or to present canvases on easels in no discernible order against a loud red colour which is particularly unflattering to the works. The paintings are of uneven quality and even the most interesting works fail to attract the eye, due to the unfortunate choices made here, except for those in fact presented on a wall such as the superb and large Louis Français (ill. 1). Even more seriously, the total lack of explanations leaves visitors clueless when looking at canvases whose common denominator stems essentially from the fact they were painted in Honfleur or its environs. The show is all the more disappointing as the catalogue itself in fact reflects a serious effort at art history. The artist biographies carefully detail their ties to Honfleur, the entry for each of the paintings places it in the context of the exhibition and several essays present a rather complete view of the subject. Of special note is the text on Henri Guérard, a painter, but above all engraver, of great talent, still relatively unknown and who has several engravings at the exhibition in Caen.

2. Henri Guérard (1846-1897)
Sunset in Honfleur, c. 1895
Coloured Printing on wood - 46.3 x 29.8 cm
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Photo : Didier Rykner

3. Félix Buhot (1847-1898)
Landing in England, 1879
Etching -
31.9 x 23.8 cm
3rd state on five
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Photo : Didier Rykner

The retrospective in the Normandy city of Caen indeed highlights Impressionist engravings at the Musée des Beaux-Arts with works from the Bibliothèque nationale only. Since Impressionism is generally associated with colour, engravings using black and white –only a small section displays coloured engravings, developed very late in the 19th century – are often overlooked. Some artists were more prolific in this techniquethan others, for example Pissarro and Manet whose engravings are often exhibited.
This magnificent exhibition, with a remarkable presentation, is not limited to the usual famous names and makes room, alongside Cézanne and Degas, for less familiar artists such as this Henri Guérard mentioned above (ill. 2). Visitors will also be sure to notice Auguste Delâtre and Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic with their unforgettable black effects, Félix Buhot and his Landing in England (ill. 3), as well as Marcellin Desboutin who participated in the second Impressionist exhibition of 1876.
The brief catalogue focuses on illustrations with excellent reproductions for each engraving thus conveying the subtlety of the nuances.

4. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
The Cathedral of Rouen, 1894
Oil on canvas - 100 x 66 cm
Belgrade, Narodni Muzej
Photo : Didier Rykner

Rouen and its Musée des Beaux-Arts deployed the largest budget of these three shows to organize an extensive exhibition highlighting the city’s role in the Impressionist movement. Here the subject is similar to the one in Honfleur but is treated in a very different manner. Both the presentation and development are clear and pedagogical and with its 130 works, the exhibition in Rouen definitely deserves a visit. The eleven cathedral views by Claude Monet assembled here, including one from Belgrade (ill. 4) are one of the show’s main attractions.
The catalogue, with both essays and entries for the paintings, is a thick and well illustrated volume (here also, as in the first two, particular attention has been paid to the quality of the images). However, we do regret the lack of any historical background for the works on display and a confusing bibliography for a work of this caliber. For example, the reader cannot tell which works might be unpublished, unless he refers to the other books on the subject, or also which ones have not been exhibited in France for a long time.

5. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
Portrait of Eugène Murer, 1878
Oil on canvas - 64.4 x 54.3 cm
Springfield, Museum of Fine Arts
Photo : Didier Rykner

The show smoothly blends a chronological thread with various themes. The first part begins with paintings of Rouen and its surroundings before Impressionism by Corot, Jongkind, Huet and Turner, continues with landscapes representing the Seine at Rouen, followed by Pissarro’s first stay here in 1883 then ends with Gauguin’s visit in 1884. Many of the works come from American museums, some rarely seen before in France, for example a beautiful portrait by Camille Pissarro, held in Springfield, Massachusetts (ill. 5). The exhibition also presents paintings by less familiar artists, such as Charles Lapostolet (ill. 6) or Iwill. The next section, corresponding to the second part of the visit, highlights the Rouen School, usually associated with Neo-Impressionism, whose members, Albert Dubois-Pillet, Charles Frechon (ill. 7) and Léon-Jules Lemaître are not as famous as Monet or Sisley.

6. Charles Lapostolet (1824-1890)
The Seine in Rouen
Oil on canvas - 27 x 43 cm
Bernay, Musée
Photo : Didier Rykner

7. Charles Frechon (1859-1929)
Rouen and the Lacroix’ Island seen from Cours-la-Reine, 1891-1895
Oil on canvas - 37 x 56 cm
Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Didier Rykner

8. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
The Bridge Boieldieu, Sunset, 1896
Oil on canvas - 74.2 x 92.5 cm
Birmingham, Museum and Art Gallery
Photo : Didier Rykner

Although the following room with the ensemble of cathedral views is of course remarkable, the series of Bridges by Pissarro is just as impressive (ill. 8).
Continuing in chronological order, the exhibition also offers an extensive number of Post-Impressionists down to Maurice Denis. The works are always well chosen, even in the case of secondary artists (Albert Lebourg, Gustave Loiseau, Xavier Boutigny…).

Guy Cogeval, president of the Musée d’Orsay, often says that Impressionism has been neglected by French art historians over the past few years, which is quite possible despite the fact that this school seems to be ever present in the minds of the general public leaving the impression that it was the only artistic current of the second half of the 19th century. It may be precisely that this popular craze has dissuaded scholars from undertaking serious studies. In any case, lovers of this movement will have much to enjoy over the coming months as the Normandy exhibitions will be followed this fall by a major Claude Monet retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris.

Collective work, Une ville pour l’impressionisme Monet, Pissarro et Gauguin à Rouen, Skira Flammarion, 2010, 396 p., 39 €. ISBN : 9782081241923

Buy this book

Visitor information : Musée des Beaux-Arts, esplanade Marcel-Duchamp, 76000 Rouen. Tel : +33 (0)2 35 71 28 40. Open every day from 10 to 18 except Tuesdays. Rates : 5 € (full price), 3 € (reduced price).

Collective work, L’estampe impessioniste. Trésors de la bibliothèque nationale de France de Manet à Renoir, Somogy, 2010, 160 p., 25 €. ISBN : 978-2-7572-0376-7.

Buy this book

Visitor information : Musée des Beaux-Arts, Le Château, 14000 Caen. Tel : +33 (0)2 31 30 47 70. Open every day from 9:30 to 18 except Tuesdays. Rates : 4 € (full price).

Collective work, Honfleur entre tradition et modernité 1820-1900, Musée Eugène Boudin, 2010, 287 p., 35 €. ISBN : 9782902985159

Visitor information : Musée Eugène Boudin, Place Erik Satie, 14600 Honfleur. Tel : +33 (0)2 31 89 54 00. Open every day from 10 to 12 and 14 to 18 except Tuesdays. Rates : 5 € (full price), 3 € (reduced price).

Didier Rykner, lundi 21 juin 2010

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