Edgar Degas, Yellow Dancers … Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait
Images courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
Invited guests and members of the press who attended today’s preview of the Kimbell Art Museum’s Impressionist exhibition, opening Sunday, were rewarded with a remarkable tour. Malcolm Warner, acting director of the Kimbell, led the group past the 92 works on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago’s outstanding collection of 19th-century French paintings. The AIC is working on its new Modern Wing — designed by Renzo Piano and set to open in 2009 — which is a chief reason the Chicago museum let the largest group of Impressionist paintings it has ever loaned come to the Kimbell.
But what made the tour a delight was the presence of Richard Brettell among our group — and Warner’s gracious request that Dr. Brettell contribute any comments he’d like to. It wasn’t planned, Warner insisted, but he’d have been foolish to let the opportunity pass. Brettell is the McDermott Distinguished Professor of Art and Aesthetics at the University of Texas at Dallas and, of course, the former director of the Dallas Museum of Art. But not only is he a leading authority on French painting from this period, once upon a time he was the Searle Curator of European Painting — at the Art Institute of Chicago. He lived with these paintings for years.
Brettell has done this before for the Kimbell — he co-curated (and gave the press tour for) 2005’s Gauguin and Impressionism exhibition. Informal, learned and able to convey his own excitement over these works, Brettell would seemingly pop up with the amusing anecdote, the revealing detail — how, for instance, the room in van Gogh’s 1889 painting, The Bedroom, was Gauguin’s room when they lived together. Or how it was the museum that bought Gustave Caillebotte’s butcher-shop still-life (one of only seven museum purchases among the 92) instead of one of the Chicago philanthropists who endowed the AIC with such riches. Slaughtered cattle — an image that anticipates Francis Bacon’s work — is not an image that collectors would love, Brettell said. It’s a great painting but it’s a curator’s painting.
The Kimbell should just have him do the audio tours.
Malcolm Warner in front of Gustave Caillebotte’s street scene