It’s another one of the Kimbell Art Museum’s semi-annual, Impressionist shows. Some of us occasionally have gotten tired of them; the museum has been bringing them in since 1973. But then the Kimbell will come back and top the great stuff that’s come before: The exhibition, Faces of Impressionism, opening this weekend at the Kimbell, is the largest loan of portraits – ever – from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. KERA’s Jerome Weeks says the exhibition makes an incredibly rich case for Impressionists finding new ways to capture the human face.
The Impressionists made their mark through landscapes and cityscapes. That’s where they really displayed their revolutionary experiments in light, atmosphere and modern subjects. The work that even gave Impressionism its name was Monet’s 1872 painting, Impression, Sunrise — which captured a foggy morning sky over an industrial harbor.
But Faces of Impressionism at the Kimbell is all portraits, and the portrait is a more narrowly focused, more traditional genre. The Kimbell’s George Shackleford co-curated the exhibition with Xavier Rey of the Musee d’Orsay. He says painters like Cezanne, Degas and van Gogh gave the formal portrait new psychological insight. They gave it drama and color.
“When Cezanne makes a portrait of himself,” Shackleford says, “it’s full of vigor and it’s as boldly painted as Degas’ is refined. Van Gogh thought that it was color that was going to make the modern portrait. So these artists are fiercely independent, fiercely determined to mold their own style and to advance the ‘new painting’ as it came to be known.”
The artists featured at the Kimbell are a greatest-hits roster from late-19th century France: Renoir, Monet, Rodin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin. That’s because the Musee d’Orsay is the giant Victorian railway station in Paris that was converted into a museum in 1986. It holds the world’s preeminent collection of Impressionists and post-Impressionists.
So the 74 artworks in Faces of Impressionism range from such well-known masterpieces as Gaugun’s Yellow Christ and Degas’ portraits of ballet dancers to paintings by artists who may have never been seen before in North Texas. Even if you’ve visited the Musee, the exhibition excerpts these selections and concentrates them, making this a mother lode of Impressionist and post-Impressionist portraits.