From 16 June 2012 to 13 January 2013, the Hermitage Amsterdam
presents Impressionism: Sensation & Inspiration: the world-famous Impressionist paintings from the vast collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, in their artistic context. Masterpieces by pioneers like Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Camille Pissarro are accompanied by the work of other influential French painters from the second half of the nineteenth century, such as Eugène Delacroix and Jean-Léon Gérôme. The exhibition focuses on contrasts between artistic movements. For instance, visitors can see and experience the sensational quality of Impressionism, the movement that heralded a new age. All the paintings, drawings, and sculptures come from the collection of the St. Petersburg Hermitage. Seldom has such a rich survey of this period been on display in the Netherlands.
Impressionism derives its name from Monet's painting Impression, soleil levant (1872); the name was first used mockingly by a journalist, but was soon adopted as a badge of pride. These artists rendered their fleeting impressions in vibrant colours for the pure pleasure of painting. They had no use for lofty ideas and worked in the open air under ever-changing light. The Impressionists brought a breath of fresh air to the stuffy art world of their day. Their subjects are easy to appreciate. Along with city scenes and landscapes, they often depicted the most charming aspects of everyday bourgeois life: Paris cafés and boulevards, seaside excursions, informal portraits, and rowing trips just outside town. The revolutionary ideas of this new generation clashed with the reigning academic tradition. Their colourful impressions were seen as shocking and radical, and at first they were frequent targets of ridicule. Yet their radical approach to style, technique, and subject matter proved deeply inspiring to many artists. They ushered in a new perspective on reality, a new concept of beauty, a new era.
Impressionism began as a response to the classicism of the Paris Salon, an annual exhibition of officially selected art. The exponents of this style painted precisely as artists were expected to paint: carefully staged scenes with crisp outlines and an eye for detail. Their subjects were mythological, historical, or religious. The most prominent artists in the neo-classicist tradition were Alexandre Cabanel (Portrait of Countess Elizabeth Vorontsova-Dashkova, 1873) and Jean-Léon Gérôme (Sale of a Slave Girl in Rome [Slave Market in Ancient Rome], 1884). One of the best-known French Romantics is Eugène Delacroix (Lion Hunt in Morocco, 1854). Painters such as Théodore Rousseau (Landscape with a Ploughman, 1860-1865) and Charles-François Daubigny (Pool, 1858) represent the Barbizon School. They can be seen as forerunners of the Impressionists, because they painted their realistic landscapes in the open air.
The exhibition deliberately places the Impressionists in the company of their predecessors, contemporaries, and successors, including both kindred spirits and competing movements. Favourites like Monet's Woman in the Garden and Renoir's Portrait of the Actress Jeanne Samary are side by side with the work of Delacroix, Daubigny and Gérôme, as well as magnificent paintings by Paul Cézanne (The Smoker, c. 18901892) and Paul Gauguin (Woman with Fruit, 1893), who were inspired by Impressionism to develop wholly original, personal styles. In short, the Hermitage Amsterdam offers a clear and fascinating overview of the many currents and controversies in the turbulent French art scene between 1850 and 1900.
The Van Gogh Museum at the Hermitage
When Cézanne and Gauguin are mentioned, a third artist cannot be overlooked: Vincent van Gogh, their equally original and brilliant contemporary, who was also indebted to the Impressionists. As the leading post-Impressionist, he explored the limits of the movement. On 29 September, a large portion of the Van Gogh Museum collection will be relocated to the Hermitage Amsterdam, including 75 highlights, works on paper, and a selection from the letters. The two exhibition wings will then both be open to the public. Never before has the famous Van Gogh collection been on display under the same roof as so many famous French contemporaries from the Hermitage.