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Post-Impressionist Masterpieces

Masters at Work

What’s hot? What’s new? Innovation — whether in technology or the arts — has always fascinated our society. Today, the latest buzz is, “What’s next after Facebook and Twitter?” In the 19th century, we were dying to know, “What’s next after Impressionism?” Regardless of the century, groundbreaking trailblazers continue to excite and pique our interests.

Following the extraordinary summer exhibition Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay at the de Young Museum in San Francisco (seen by over 430,000 visitors) is Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay. This exhibition, the second of the two exhibitions traveling around the world from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, explores the evolution of cutting-edge artistic developments by renowned Post-Impressionist artists (and some lesser known ones too).

Ten galleries filled with nearly 120 of the most famous late 19th century paintings includeworks by Bonnard, Cézanne, Gauguin, Monet, Renoir, Rousseau, Seurat, Signac, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, and Vuillard, among others.

The exhibition explores how the French modernists both embraced and rejected the essentially realistic depictions of Impressionism and how, in the process, they developed revolutionary new painting techniques (brushstrokes, lighting, pigment application, two-dimensional surface effects, etc.).

The show begins with late Post-Impressionist works by Renoir, Monet, Degas, and Pissarro. A must-see are Renoir’s paintings, “Young Girls at the Piano” and “A Dance in the Country.” The delightful subject matters of middle class French leisure combined with the bright, vivid colors are awesome to experience in person.

Next, Pointillist works by Seurat, Signac, and Van Rysselberghe represent the Neo-Impressionism theory that art should be more scientific and organized than the traditional Impressionist painting techniques. Initiated by Seurat, this innovative style was created by applying a network of small, distinct dots of color in patterns to form an image. The effect, which looks like dots of paint when viewed up close and a distinct image when viewed from a distance, was groundbreaking in optics and color perception.

Three galleries then delve into the more individualistic styles of the early modern masters including Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Van Gogh. Later galleries focus on Gauguin’s radical Synthetism technique of emphasizing flat forms using large areas of color and bold, dark contours. The style was a clear departure from the Impressionists’ attempts to accurately record reality through the wash of color and light.

We then see Gauguin’s influence on younger artists who painted as part of the Pont Aven School and then parted into the group known as the Nabis painters that included Bonnard, Denis, Bernard and Vuillard. Further galleries explore the Nabis’ brand new (for that time) ideas of symbolism and intimism in art. The show concludes with the pioneering new thought of using art as “decorative wall art.” Room-sized decorative panels showcase works by Vuillard and Bonnard.

By a landslide, the most breathtaking feature of the exhibition is Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Viewing one of the most famous paintings in the entire world — in person — is beyond words. Besides feeling like a star-struck fan standing next to your favorite celebrity, the art itself is awe-inspiring. Seen up close, incredibly thick layers of opaque pigment are painted on the canvas with Van Gogh’s lively brushstrokes. You almost have to pinch yourself to fully grasp the concept that this is an original and that the paint strokes (which you’re standing just a few inches from) were created from the Master’s hand. Viewed from afar, the painting perfectly captures the magic, romance, and energy of the night’s sky. It’s interesting to note that “Starry Night” was actually not painted at night but during the day from Van Gogh’s memory!

Other notable Van Gogh works at the exhibit include, “Self Portrait” and “Bedroom at Arles.” Additional highlights of the gallery include the celebrated works: “Tahitian Women” by Gauguin and “Still Life with Onions” by Cezanne.

Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay is a once (or maybe twice) in a lifetime opportunity to view some of the most well known images in modern culture, see the greatest innovations in painting techniques, educate yourself on lesser known artists, and of course, enjoy a hearty feast for the visual senses.

de Young Museum
September 25th though January 18th
Tickets: $20-$25