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The Speed Art Museum Announces Renoir to Chagall: Paris and the Allure of Color
Gaston La Touche (French, 1854-1913), The Joyous Festival, ca. 1906. Oil on canvas, 82 ½ x 113 ½ inches. Collection of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Gift of Mrs. James D. Robinson in Memory of James D. Robinson, 1986.3

LOUISVILLE, KY.- The Speed Art Museum presents an extraordinary exhibition of modern French masters in Renoir to Chagall: Paris and the Allure of Color from February 3 through May 6, 2012. The exhibition was co-organized by the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, TN and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, KY. Renoir to Chagall features more than 80 paintings by the great French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, as well as key artists who came immediately before and after them. Among the who’s who of painters included in the exhibition are Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Braque, and Marc Chagall.

Featuring 55 paintings from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens and nearly 30 works from Speed’s collection and public and private collections throughout Kentucky, Renoir to Chagall represents a partnership between two of the South’s finest art museums. Dr. Charles L. Venable, Speed Director and CEO, remarked, “We at the Speed value partnerships with local and national arts organizations highly and are very pleased to join forces with the Dixon to organize such a visually beautiful and intellectually interesting exhibition for display here in Louisville, especially while the Speed’s collection of Old Master paintings is on view in Memphis.”

Renoir to Chagall demonstrates how Paris as the art capital of the Western world, produced and attracted artists of great accomplishment. On view are portraits, scenes of daily life, still lifes, landscapes, interiors, and the fascinating worlds of the ballet, cafés, boulevards, and other aspects of modern city life that made Paris a magnet for artists. The diverse subjects and styles of the magnificent works in this exhibition illustrate the critical developments in French painting during this period that profoundly changed the direction of modern art. While the Impressionists experimented with color and light effects to capture the fleeting sensations of reality, the Post-Impressionists loosened ties to realism altogether by emphasizing abstract elements of form and color, and occasionally the inner world of feelings and emotions. Ruth Cloudman, Chief Curator at the Speed commented, “Impressionism is one of the most beloved periods in art history and Renoir to Chagall: Paris and the Allure of Color presents works from the most celebrated artists from this era. This exhibition is not only visually stunning, but provides a diverse display of subjects that engaged the Impressionists and their innovative followers that visitors are sure to adore.”

Highlights of the Exhibition
Portraits and figure paintings represented include works such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s enchanting oil portrait of one of his three sons, created during the 1890s when he found the greatest inspiration for his paintings in his family and their activities. An equally personal portrait is Mary Cassatt’s The Visitor, depicting her sister Lydia, who was one of her favorite models. Painted in about 1880, the year after Cassatt first exhibited with the Impressionists, the portrait demonstrates Cassatt’s remarkably free, uninhibited brushwork.

Scenes of late nineteenth-century Parisian nightlife and popular entertainment figure prominently in Renoir to Chagall. A gallery devoted to paintings and pastels of the Paris ballet and its dancers will delight visitors of all ages. The centerpiece is Degas’ Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe (1885), which shows the artist at the height of his career, masterfully wielding charcoal and glowing pastel to capture the spontaneous movement of a young dancer leaning over to adjust her slipper. One of the pioneering Impressionists of the 1870s, Degas sought artistic inspiration in the urban entertainments of Paris, particularly the ballet. He introduced his friend and protégé Jean-Louis Forain to the ballet in the mid 1870s. Evening at the Opera (ca. 1879) is one of two fan-shaped paintings in the exhibition, a pictorial form that came into vogue in France during the 1870s as part of the mania for all things Japanese. The influence of both Degas and Forain can be seen in the subject and the rapidly executed style of Dancer Seated on a Pink Divan (ca.1883) by the twenty-year-old Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Many artists in this exhibition explored still life, and some redefined it. Among those represented in the exhibition include two brilliantly colored canvases by Marc Chagall depicting dream-like scenes of brides and grooms with still lifes of flowers and fruit, both symbols of abundance and fertility, traditional wishes for newly married couples.

Other artists turned repeatedly to the landscape and seashore for inspiration. Paul Gauguin, already a member of the Impressionist circle, painted Bathing in Front of the Port Pont-Aven in Brittany during the summer of 1886. The work’s soft lighting and broken brushwork are typical of Gauguin’s Impressionist approach.

The exhibition comes to a fitting finale with scenes of Paris, the city that nurtured and inspired so many of the artists in this exhibition. Among the outstanding paintings in this section are Jean-François Raffaelli’s The Place d’Italie, after the Rain (1877) and Pierre-Albert Marquet’s luminous Point of Ile St. Louis (1928).

The Premiere of a New Acquisition
Renoir to Chagall: Paris and the Allure of Color is also the premiere of the Speed’s newest acquisition The Pont des Saints-Pères, Paris (1870) by Henri-Joseph Harpignies. This striking composition presents a view from the Tuilleries Gardens to the Saints-Pères Bridge that spanned the Seine River and beyond to the distant dome of the Institut de France. The foreground trees serve as a framing device to lead the viewer’s eye into the picture’s luminous middle ground of gleaming water and light reflecting on the people and carriages crossing the bridge.

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