Baltimore Museum of Art

Baltimore, MD



Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from American Collections


Although Impressionism is dominated by views of Paris and the French countryside, artists of the movement made major contributions to the genre of portraiture. A sweeping presentation of 56 signature works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Édouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, and many other important figures, Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from American Collections is the first exhibition to explore how these celebrated artists revolutionized the art of portrait painting. Featured are individual and group portraits, figures in landscapes, and self-portraits by 14 of the 19th century's most influential artists. Drawn from the collections of more than 30 major museums across the country, the exhibition is organized and toured nationally by the BMA and curated by Sona Johnston, BMA Curator of Painting & Sculpture Before 1900. Faces of Impressionism premieres October 10, 1999 and runs through January 30, 2000, before traveling to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and The Cleveland Museum of Art. Baltimore is the exclusive East Coast venue.

According to Doreen Bolger, BMA Director, "We are thrilled to offer audiences in Baltimore, Houston, and Cleveland such a novel approach to Impressionism. By focusing on portraiture -- a lesser-known area of the movement -- we are able to present a unique look at some of the luminaries of 19th-century painting. Rarely does one encounter such beauty, originality, and scholarship in one exhibition. These groundbreaking works anticipate the major artistic developments of the 20th century by artists like Matisse, who is at the heart of the BMA's famed Cone Collection of Post-impressionist and modem art." Added Johnston,"We are fortunate to have gathered a truly stellar collection of paintings from across the country for this exhibition. Seldom has there been such a comprehensive, yet intimate look at the Impressionists as a group. Nearly five years in the making and spanning more than 50 years of art history, the exhibition illustrates how these artists represented and reshaped the idea of modem identity."

Presented chronologically by decade, this survey begins in the 1850s with two pivotal precursors of Impressionism -- Gustave Courbet and Thomas Couture -- whose methods and selection of subjects sparked the revolution that dominated the next generation of French artists. Also shown are works by Jean-Frédéric Bazille and Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour, neither of whom actually belonged to the movement but, in their early adherence to Realism, shared many of the goals of the more progressive painters. Although he preferred to exhibit at the official Salons rather than with the Impressionists, Manet was also a pivotal figure in the movement. A pupil of Couture and much admired by the Impressionists for the vivid realism brought to his paintings, Manet is represented by eight works from the 1860s through his death in 1883, tracing the development of his highly personal, contemporary style. Superb examples of portraiture by the "classic" members of the movement--Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, Degas, Berthe Morisot, and Camille Pissarro-demonstrate how these artists progressed to the brilliant, light-filled canvases that mark their mature styles. Later works by Cézanne and Paul Gauguin, both of whom participated in Impressionist shows, but eventually went beyond the boundaries of the movement, anticipate the developments of the 20th century.

In the 19th century, the primary purpose of portraiture was the representation of historical figures. By contrast, the subjects of many Impressionist portraits were ordinary people. Rarely did a sitter's name appear in the title. Unlike traditional portraiture where an artist is enlisted to paint a likeness that is flattering to the client, the Impressionists explored new approaches. With very few portrait commissions, virtually all of the artists depicted friends and relatives in informal poses and engaged in everyday activities-revealing personal relationships and exploring the social context of this most influential circle.

Often, complex associations between artist and subject are disclosed through portraits in the exhibition. Showing mutual admiration and respect, Renoir depicted Monet at work at his easel. Visiting Argenteuil in the summer of 1874, Manet painted the Monet family together in their garden. Degas' probing likenesses of family members betray inner psychological issues as do Cézanne's images of his wife, Hortense. In his two portraits of his young daughter, Minette, Pissarro gives to her a particular sweetness tinged with melancholy as if to foreshadow her tragic death in childhood.

Faces of Impressionism features works on loan from major museums and private collections across the country, including The Art Institute of Chicago; The Baltimore Museum of Art; Brooklyn Museum of Art; The Cleveland Museum of Art; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and Philadelphia Museum of Art. Following the BMA venue, the exhibition will tour to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (March 25-May 7, 2000) and The Cleveland Museum of Art (May 28-July 30, 2000).

Exhibition images by Mary Cassatt: Portrait of Mrs Currey; Sketch of Mr. Cassatt, c. 1871, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Zicherman, New York; Reine Lefebvre Holding a Nude Baby,1902-1903, oil on canvas, Worcester Art Museum; Mary Ellen Cassatt in a Big Blue Hat, c. 1905, oil on canvas, Williams College Museum of Art; Portrait of a Woman, 1872, oil on canvas, The Dayton Art Institute; Woman Reading, 1878-9, oil on cnavas, Joslyn Art Museum; Young Woman in Black (possibly Jennie Cassatt), 1883, oil on canvas, The Peabody Art Collection, MD State Archives. Note to Resource Library Magazine readers: We have selected images of the art of American artist Mary Cassatt to accompany this article because of our focus on American artists, while recognizing the outstanding European works displayed in the exhibition.


About the Curator

Sona Johnston is Curator of Painting & Sculpture Before 1900 at The Baltimore Museum of Art. During her 28-year tenure, she has organized numerous exhibitions on such artists as Antoine-Louis Barye, Honoré Daumier, Winslow Homer, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Benjamin West. She is the author of American Paintings, 1750-1900, from the Collection of The Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore: The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1983); Theodore Robinson(Baltimore: The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1973) and other exhibition catalogues.

Johnston is currently writing Theodore Robinson: A Catalogue Raisonné and has edited and annotated four volumes of the artist's diaries and letters. She is also a contributor to Master Paintings from The Butler Institute of American Art (New York: Harry Abrams, 1994) and The Dictionary of Art (London: Macmillan, 1996), and has authored several articles on diverse subjects in 19th and early 20th-century art.


The exhibition is accompanied by a 168-page catalogue with color and black-and-white illustrations co-published by the BMA and Rizzoli International. Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from American Collections features an essay by Dr. John House, Professor of the History of Art and Deputy Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, and commentaries by Sona Johnston, Curator of Painting & Sculpture Before 1900, The Baltimore Museum of Art. House explores how the Impressionists advanced beyond traditional conventions to create a "modern" form of portraiture. He also considers the reasons why portraits were created, the types of identities created, and the difference between portraiture and genre painting. Johnston provides biographical information on both the artist and sitter, with particular emphasis on the "moment" when the portrait was painted. The catalogue will be available at The BMA Shop and at bookstores nationwide.

Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from American Collections is supported by the BMA's Alvin and Fanny Blaustein Thalheimer Exhibition Endowment Fund. Admission to Faces of Impressionism is included in the general Museum entrance fee. The BMA Box Office will dispense same-day tickets on-site only. Timed tickets are not required to view Faces of Impressionism. No tickets will be sold in advance or by telephone.


Read more about the Baltimore Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10

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