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Nashville Last Stop for Masterpieces Before Works Return to Paris
Edgar Degas. Ballet Rehearsal on Stage, 1874. Oil on canvas, 25 5/8 x 31 7/8 in. © RMN (Musée d'Orsay), Hervé Lewandowski.

NASHVILLE, TN.- The Frist Center for the Visual Arts will open The Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay Friday, Oct. 15, 2010, and the exhibition will remain on view in Nashville through Jan. 23, 2011, when the works in the show return to Paris.

The Frist Center is one of only three cities in the world to host this exhibition. It opened in Madrid at MAPFRE in January 2010, and is currently on view at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, where it will remain until Sept. 6, before traveling to the Frist Center.

The exhibition includes 100 paintings from the permanent collection of the Musée d’Orsay and tells the story of the development of Impressionism through the magnificent works of artists living in Paris in the mid-to-late 19th century. Among the highlights of the exhibition are important works, including 2 by Adolphe-William Bouguereau, 2 by Gustave Courbet, 6 by Edgar Degas, 15 by Édouard Manet, 6 by Claude Monet, 7 by Camille Pissarro, 11 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 5 by Alfred Sisley and James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Gray and Black, No. 1: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother (1871), the painting best known as Whistler’s Mother.

While the majority of the works in this exhibition have been seen in Madrid and San Francisco, the exhibition boasts 17 paintings from the Musee d’Orsay’s collection that will travel only to Nashville, including:

• The Dance Foyer at the Opera on Rue Le Peletier by Edgar Degas (1872)
• Ballet Rehearsal on the Set by Edgar Degas (1874)
• Argenteuil by Claude Monet (1875)
• Church at Vétheuil by Claude Monet (1879)
• Émile Zola by Édouard Manet (1868)
• The Woman with a White Jabot by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1880)
• William Sisley by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1864)

Also included in the exhibition:

• The Fifer by Édouard Manet (1866)
• Family Reunion by Frédéric Bazille (1867)
• Birth of Venus by Adolphe-William Bouguereau (1879)
• The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte (1875)
• Racehorses before the Stands by Edgar Degas (1866–68)
• Nude with White Dog by Gustave Courbet (1861–62)
• Boy with a Cat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1868)

The Musée d’Orsay has made its works available throughout the world in several traveling exhibitions, including The Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay, while the museum undergoes renovation and refurbishing prior to the institution’s 25th anniversary in 2011.

“The Musée d’Orsay has the finest collection of French mid-to-late 19th-century art in the world,” said Frist Center Executive Director Susan H. Edwards, Ph.D. “In sharing these masterworks with the cities of Madrid, San Francisco and Nashville, the Musée d’Orsay offers an unparalleled cultural experience to people who might not have the opportunity to travel to Paris. Beyond including works of breathtaking attainment, the exhibition teaches about the complex intersections between academic art and the avant-garde, conveying the creative vitality of a particularly fertile moment in French intellectual and social development.”

“We are delighted to be one of only three cities in the world to host this truly magnificent exhibition,” said Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. “Nashville has long been known as a city of music, and because of exhibitions such as The Golden Age of Couture and The Birth of Impressionism, many are recognizing that we are becoming known as a great city for the visual arts as well. We look forward to welcoming visitors from around the region to Nashville to sample our cultural landscape and all our great city has to offer.”

The exhibition, curated by Stéphane Guégan and Alice Thomine of the Musée d’Orsay, broadens the conventional view of Impressionism as a radical departure from the academic and Realist art being created at the same time. The Impressionists’ approach is considered in relation to artists across the stylistic spectrum who captured the spirit of transformation sweeping Paris in the 1870s, a force that was driven by the desire for renewal after the disastrous Franco-Prussian War and suppression of the Paris Commune, the impact of naturalism in literature and the expansion of the middle class and its leisure time.

Stylistically, the exhibition examines various cross-currents in painting. These include a consideration of the influence of Spanish artists such as Francisco de Goya and Diego Velázquez on Édouard Manet and James Abbott McNeill Whistler; the connection between the lively palettes of the Batignolles school—which included Manet, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir—and the development of the classical Impressionist style and the threads linking the Realism of the Salon to the Impressionism that was pursued by artists such as Jules Breton and Jean-François Millet, whose works celebrated the beauty, luminosity and dignity of the rural landscape.

At the Frist Center, the exhibition is divided into 13 themes:

• The Salon of Paris examines themes of allegory and myth, classical antiquity and the links between French culture and past civilizations. Included in this section are works by William Bouguereau, Elie Delaunay, Gustave Moreau and others.

• The Allure of Nature: Millet, Courbet, and the Rise of Realism looks at the appeal of rural living and the celebration of everyday life in paintings by Jules Breton, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Jean-François Millet and Gustave Courbet.

• The Terrible Year: War and Civil War 1870–1871 examines the devastating effects of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the ways in which the war and France’s need for renewed national pride served as agents of cultural and artistic change; this section features paintings by Gustave Doré, Ernest Meissonier and Pierre Puvis du Chavannes.

• Naturalism in the Salon focuses on the rise of Realism in the Salon exhibitions. Everyday subjects depicted in realistic new styles appealed to a rising middle class audience with little taste for the antique.

• Manet: Between the Salon and the Avant-Garde illustrates Édouard Manet’s rejection of the overly literary and allegorical flavor of the Salon in favor of a more direct and unadorned representation of “the ordinary” in everyday life, as depicted in such works as The Fifer (1866). One of Manet’s masterpieces, Émile Zola (1868), confirms the links between Realism and the naturalistic literature of the period, while showing a wide range of influences, including Spanish and Japanese art.

• The Portrait Tableau features the motif of a figure in an interior unified through harmonious orchestrations of form, value, color and space. A manifestation of the “art for art’s sake” concept, this is exemplified in by James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Gray and Black, No. 1: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother (1871).

• Manet and The Batignolles School illustrates how Édouard Manet’s pioneering artistic achievements made him a leader of the emerging avant-garde that congregated in Paris’s Batignolles neighborhood to formulate the ideas that would eventually lead to Impressionism. In this gallery are works by Henri Fantin-Latour, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille and other artists active in the 1860s.

• Degas and Caillebotte: Images of Modern Life features the aesthetic realism of Edgar Degas and Gustave Caillebotte, who balanced an interest in light and color with a desire to portray everyday life through carefully planned compositions and finely controlled drawing. Highlights of this gallery are two of Degas’s ballet paintings and Caillebotte’s The Floor Scrapers (1875).

• Artists Painting Artists features works in which artists of the avant-garde such as Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissarro and Édouard Manet painted each other’s portraits, providing fascinating insight into their personal relationships.

• Toward the Impressionist Landscape reveals the influence of plein air painters Eugene Boudin and Johann Jongkind on Édouard Monet’s early development in the 1860s.

• Classic Impressionism is the largest section of the exhibition, containing masterpieces of landscape painting created throughout the 1870s by Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Berthe Morisot.

• Pissarro and Cézanne explores the friendship and shared influences shaping the works of two of the earliest Impressionists, who painted similar subjects, often employing patterns of regularly applied brushstrokes, close tonalities and the frequent simplification of planes to define volume, weight, and space. Eventually, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne would both depart from classic Impressionism— Pissarro to the pointillist technique of the younger artist Georges Seurat and Cézanne to an ever more geometric faceting.

• Manet: Impressionism and Beyond brings the exhibition full circle, showing that Édouard Manet not only influenced the Impressionists, but was in turn influenced by them to paint out of doors, lighten his palette, and explore increasingly gestural brushwork. These innovations appear in the artist’s luminous On the Beach (1873) and the modern history painting The Escape of Rochefort (ca. 1881).

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts | The Birth of Impressionism | Musée d'Orsay | Susan H. Edwards |

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