From 8 October 2010 to 16 January 2011, the Van Gogh Museum
will be presenting Illusions of reality: Naturalist painting, photography and cinema, 1875-1918. The exhibition, curated by guest curator Gabriel P. Weisberg, Professor of Art History at the University of Minnesota, gives an overview of Naturalist painting in relation to photography and film, with work by artists including Léon Lhermitte and Jules Bastien-Lepage (France), Albert Edelfelt (Finland), Károly Ferenczy (Hungary), Anders Zorn (Sweden), and Thomas Anschutz (United States). In the last quarter of the 19th century, Naturalism was one of the dominant movements in painting. This photographic style transcended national borders, and fanned out throughout all of Europe and the United States. More than fifty works, many of which are extremely large, will be on display in the exhibition wing of the Van Gogh Museum. At the same time, the presentation Vincent van Gogh and Naturalism will also be on display in the museum. After Amsterdam, the exhibition Illusions of reality will be presented at the Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery of Art in Helsinki from 17 February to 15 May 2011.
Naturalism in painting, which at the time was popular among artists, art lovers, and the general public, focused on subjects from the daily lives of ordinary people. Artists tried to approximate reality as closely as possible, and made frequent use of photography. These compositions, which were sometimes commissioned by the government, were exhibited at the Salon and Worlds Fairs. Most, due to their large size, were sent to museums or exhibited in public spaces such as town halls or schools. The central themes within Naturalism include labour (in the country, in cities, and in industry), religion, and youth. The painters often used simple peasants as their subject material, or the hard life of workers in the cities. The style of painting was particularly detailed, and the works have the appearance of snapshots of real life. Yet the subjects of these paintings were carefully composed and were meant to tell a story, sometimes with a moralistic message. These themes were often the same ones as those already described by the writer Émile Zola in his Naturalist novels and plays. The exhibition also shows several film fragments based on the literature of Zola. These fragments illustrate the close interrelation with the Naturalist paintings, which seem to come alive as a result.