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150 years of Impressionism: Special exhibitions across France this spring
Impressionist masterpieces will be touring France this year to celebrate a milestone moment for the revolutionary art movement that was born in 1874.
A series of five exhibitions in the northwest of the country, within easy reach of Belgium, are included in the 150th anniversary programme.
The unprecedent number of works are being shared by the world’s leading home of Impressionist art, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
They include some 58 paintings, featuring works by Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Pissarro, Cézanne and Gauguin, that will be on display at the MUba Eugène Leroy museum in Tourcoing, close to the Belgian border.
Peindre la nature. Paysages impressionists du musée d’Orsay opens on 16 March and runs until 24 June. Presented in five different sections, it explores the background to the movement and the innovative approach of Monet and fellow Parisian artists in depicting the landscape around them.
Together, they rebelled against classical subject matter and embraced modernity in a desire to create works that reflected the world in which they lived. Uniting them was a focus on how light could define a moment in time and how colour could provide definition and atmosphere.
In addition to the new practice of plein air painting, the exhibition examines how these artists reflected society’s changing relationship to their environment in the latter part of the 19th century.
Rural scenes on the banks of the Seine to the west of the capital include details of daily life, such as people working in the fields or plying the waterways in their boats (Pissarro's Pont du chemin de fer à Chatou, pictured above). Curators of the exhibition have been keen to apply a contemporary context to the works on display.
Successive landscape paintings reveal the effect of climate change; heavy snow was a more familiar experience, as in Sisley’s winter scene Sous la neige: cour de ferme à Marly le Roi (pictured above). They also painted scenes that were far from pristine in a deliberate presentation of non-idealised nature.
In another section, an audiovisual projection enables visitors to explore, in large format, details of works such as Monet's famed Water Lilies, to further understand the painter’s immersion in his landscape.
The exhibition continues with the evolution of landscape art following the first flourishes of Impressionism. From Seurat to Mondrian, Redon, Gauguin and Bonnard, it’s possible to trace the lightness of touch and daring colours of these artists as they ventured into other movements. Post- and Neo-impressionism were to herald various forms of abstraction and exploration of other art movements such as Cubism.
Finally, the works on loan from the Musée d’Orsay dovetail into the Tourcoing museum’s own collection with Monet’s Giverny masterpiece Weeping Willow (pictured above) shown alongside a painting by Eugène Leroy.
It was the latter artist’s donation of more than 400 works in 2009 that led the city’s former fine arts museum to be renamed after the local painter. Founded in 1860, the museum was transferred to a city centre hôtel particulier in the 1930s, transformed into an art space by the addition of large light-filled Art Deco-style galleries.
There will be four other opportunities for the public to enjoy impressionist art in northern France during this anniversary year.
The first exhibition to open is La Piscine in Roubaix, with the art museum celebrating the theme of childhood. Camille Claudel’s famous La Petite Châtelaine sculpture (pictured) is accompanied by impressionist paintings of children by Degas, Renoir and Pissarro. Les Enfants impressionnistes du Musée d’Orsay is showing from 17 February to 26 May.
In Amiens, the Musée de Picardie focuses on a painting by Manet of the beach at Berck-sur-Mer. Sur la Plage impressioniste, dans l’œil d’Edouard Manet is showing from 16 March to 16 June.
The Musée de la Chartreuse in Douai presents its rich collection of paintings alongside Monet’s La Rue Montorgueil in Monet-Duhem, l’Impressionnisme à Douai, from 27 March to 24 June.
In Lille, the city’s Palais des Beaux-Arts displays a series of works by Monet – from both Orsay and its own collection - that depict the village of Vétheuil, a special place for the founder of the art movement. Monet à Vétheuil, les Saisons d’une Vie runs from 18 April to 24 September.
Photos: (main image) Auguste Renoir, Pont du chemin de fer à Chatou,1894 ©Musée d'Orsay, dist RMN-Grand Palais/Patrice Schmidt; Claude Monet, Meules, fin de l'été, ©RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay)/Hervé Lewandowski; Camille Pissarro, La Seine à Port-Marly, le lavoir, 1872 ©Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/ Patrice Schmidt ; Alfred Sisley, Sous la neige: cour de ferme à Marly-le-Roi, 1876 © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay)/Stéphane Maréchalle ; Claude Monet, Saule pleureur, ©RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay)/Michèle Bellot; Camille Claudel, La Petite Châtelaine 1895-1896, Roubaix, La Piscine-musée d’Art et d’Industrie, photo Alain Leprince