Royal Academy of Arts opens "Gauguin and the Impressionists: Masterpieces from the Ordrupgaard Collection"

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Royal Academy of Arts opens "Gauguin and the Impressionists: Masterpieces from the Ordrupgaard Collection"
Camille Pissarro, Plum Trees in Blossom, Éragny (The Painter's Home), 1894. Oil on canvas. 60 x 73 cm. © Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen. Photo: Anders Sune Berg.

LONDON.- Gauguin and the Impressionists: Masterpieces from the Ordrupgaard Collection showcases 60 works drawn from one of the finest collections of Impressionist paintings in northern Europe, assembled in the first decades of the twentieth century by wealthy Danish couple Wilhelm and Henny Hansen. The exhibition includes masterpieces by Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. It also features precursors of Impressionism such as Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Jules Dupré and Charles-François Daubigny, and a number of Post-Impressionist works including an exceptional group of eight paintings by Paul Gauguin. Many of the works in the collection have never been seen in the UK before.

Wilhelm Hansen was an insurance magnate who created a collection of French paintings between 1916 and the late 1920s. The First World War, during which Denmark remained neutral, gave Hansen the opportunity to buy important works from the most prestigious Parisian dealers including Paul Durand-Ruel and the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. Hansen was already a keen collector of Danish nineteenth-century painting but decided to acquire the best French painting from ‘Corot to Cézanne’, enlisting the help of French art critic and early champion of Impressionism Théodore Duret. The Hansens displayed their collection at Ordrupgaard, their house just outside Copenhagen, which they opened to the public in 1918. By then, their collection spanned Delacroix to Cézanne and was recognised by a French critic as ‘perhaps one of the richest and most complete collections outside France’ of nineteenth-century French painting. In 1951 Hansen's widow, Henny, bequeathed their home and collection to the Danish state, which turned it into a museum in 1953. This exhibition is a unique opportunity to view these works in the UK while Ordrupgaard is closed for the construction of a new wing.

The exhibition opens with Painting en Plein Air featuring landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes mostly painted in and around Paris, the Normandy coast and London, showing how the Impressionists broke away from the classical Italianate landscapes. Included are paintings of the forest of Fontainebleau where, in the 1860s, a new generation of painters such as Monet, Sisley and Renoir, went to paint en plein air. There are also three works by Pissarro representing the landscape around his home in Eragny, as well as Sisley’s scenes of the banks of the Seine. This section ends with a group of cityscapes of London and Paris by Monet and Pissarro who were inspired by the light and atmosphere of these modern cities.

Collecting French Masters features works by predecessors of Impressionism. Advised by Duret, Hansen acquired paintings by important earlier nineteenth-century painters including Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, Corot and Courbet. This gallery partially reproduces one of Hansen’s original hangs based on archival photographs. Most of the works are being featured but he was forced to sell part of his collection when the Danish Landmandsbank collapsed in 1922. Key early works include Delacroix’s portrait George Sand, 1838; Courbet’s The Ruse, Roe Deer Hunting Episode (Franche-Comté), 1866; and eight works by Corot, among them The Windmill, c. 1835-40.

Impressionist Women shows portraits of women painted by Renoir and Degas as well as Morisot and Eva Gonzalès. In the late 1910s, the Hansens acquired paintings by Morisot and Gonzalès, whose work was less widely recognised, despite their important place within the movement. The works show intimate and domestic scenes which reflect the constraints they faced as women artists at the time. Key portraits include Morisot’s Young Girl on the Grass (Mademoiselle Isabelle Lambert), 1885, Gonzalès’s The Convalescent. Portrait of a Woman in White, 1877-78 and Renoir’s Portrait of a Romanian Lady (Madame Iscovesco), 1877.

The exhibition ends with Gauguin and Post-Impressionism presenting works by artists who, at the turn of the century, reacted against Impressionism: Gauguin, Cézanne and Matisse. Gauguin is one of the best represented artists in the collection and on display are eight of his paintings spanning his career including Blue Trees. Your Turn Will come, My Beauty!, 1888 and Portrait of a Young Girl Vaïte [Jeanne] Goupil, 1896. Also included are Cézanne’s Women Bathing, c. 1895, and Matisse’s Flowers and Fruits, 1909.

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