The Modern Woman: Drawings by Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Other Masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay, Paris
Vancouver Art Gallery
Until September 6
It’s usually Sydney, Melbourne or Los Angeles that have the blockbuster visual arts shows that tempt one to see art which has little chance of coming to New Zealand.
Now you can add Vancouver Art Gallery to the list. In the last few years the gallery has had several big exhibitions including “Monet to Dali” and “Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art: Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum."
At the moment they have "The Modern Woman: Drawings by Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Other Masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay, Paris,” featuring nearly 100 works by 40 artists. They include all the great names of late 19th century French art as well as a few less prominent but equally skilled artists.
The exhibition looks at the way that artists recorded social change as well as being part of it from the middle of the 19th century. The primary focus is on how women were depicted but there is also a wider look at the social and changes which were occurring.
The exhibition also shows the way artists changed the way in which they used the female figure. Before the 19h century the study of the female form, whether clothed or nude, was for the purposes of including the figures and faces in mythological, historical or religious compositions.
After the revolution and the subsequent social changes, artists began to draw and paint female figures in their own right. No longer was the voluptuous female figure turned into a Greek goddess or the sweet faced girl into a Madonna. They were sensible or sensuous women depicted as equal members of contemporary society.
With this change in viewpoint there is also the beginnings of what 20th century commentators would call the “male gaze” – women depicted for pleasure of their beauty and sensuality.
Often the models were the mistresses or wives of the artist and in many of the drawings there in an intimacy as the artists, particularly Degas, show women in personal activity such as bathing or combing their hair.
While some saw women as people in their own right, symbols of the changing times, other saw them as metaphors for the corruption afflicting French society and the family.
This streak of anti-feminism can be seen in work such as Odilon Redon’s “Profile of a Veiled Woman,” where the almost skeletal face hints at the depravity and corruption some writers and artists believed emanated from the free woman.
Several of the drawings in the show are studies for later major works such as Millet's “The Gleaners” while others such as Seurat's “The Black Bow” show the artist exploring notions of dark and light that are almost photographic.’
Portraits by Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet show young girls and women, often anonymous sitters, depicted with an increased complexity.
Pierre Bonnard and Henri Fantin-Latour portray women alone in the privacy of their homes, reading or knitting with a quiet intensity. Artists such as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec capture, with brilliant insight, the patrons and performers at cafés and theatres.
There is a also a group of artists, including Paulo Gauguin and Eugene Boudin, who sought inspiration outside the city, depicting women ranging form Breton peasants to elaborately dressed tourists at the seaside.
The draughtsmanship ranges from the classicism of Puvis de Chavannes though the delicacy of Renoir to the urgency of Daumier, while the range of techniques is far ranging and inventive.
Even though the exhibition focuses on women, Berthe Morisot is the only female included in the show, which says much about the nature and place of women in the artistic community of the time.
Accompanying the exhibition are two short films that help give a visual context to the drawings.
One is a film by the Lumiere brothers of women leaving a factory, showing them in their working style dresses, while a film of the Paris Exposition of 1895 (when the Eiffel tower was unveiled) shows off the more formal female fashions.
Thu, 12 Aug 2010