Peg and I went to the Tacoma Art Museum in great anticipation. The entrance to the lobby with its glass clouds of white and watery blue just scream Tacoma, Washington.
We both love the works of the French Impressionists. This exhibit had Canadian and American impressionists as well. Our son Del joined us half-way through our tour. It’s amazing how these oil images from over a hundred years ago can still grab your soul and cast a spell on you. If you have never seen a Renoir live, you’ve never seen a Renoir.
The same holds true for a painting by Sisley as well. This painting is in the exhibit, but doesn’t excite like his more natural exteriors of valleys and forests.
I entered the exhibition all to the right. One painting I noted immediately was an Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) ,”Neige a Marley-le- Roi” Snow in Marley-le-Roi, 1875. Although it did not feature my favorite greens, blue-greens, yellow greens, cabbages, gardens, spring and summer landscapes, I immediately recognized it by his characteristic trees, even though they were all bare and stark outside a city wall, this was a Alfred Sisley. He’s one of my favorite artists and colorists including those who are not impressionists. This was followed by two other works, more characteristic of my passion for all shades of green.
His “Vallee la Seine” Valley of the Seine, 1866. Again, the vibrant blues, greens and yellows with a view across a valley from the fields to the blue hills. His “Edge of the Forest in Spring (1889) was gorgeous, looking through the trees to an almost hidden building with the regular greens and a soft field foreground.
John Butler, American, 1890-1976: “Untitled” showing fields of yellow in the foreground grass to the valley in greens ranging from sap to viridian to blue green to dark shrubs separating the yellow greens to the blue hills – so lyrical.
C. C. McKim, American: Patton Creek, 1925, a fall scene with aspens along a creek showing the stark white trees against the yellow reflections in the water.
Gustave Courbet: “LeMoulin” The Mill: Marvelous layers of the cliff side showing the different layers of the cliffs behind and above the mill with a beautiful yellow patch of a shallow spot with a yellowed, dried grasses on it.
Of course there were numerous famous painters and their works: A Degas fan shape, not an unusual paper shape for the time, with his famous dancers with the old and younger men (voyeurs, shoppers for young flesh?) watching from the side of the stage. It must have been good advertising and promotion for the theatre that they were allowed to get a look at the young women in their physical prime and colored tutus, in a state of much more revealing clothing than fashionable women’s clothing.
I enjoyed every painting and sculpture, especially Degas’ “Dancer”. The young woman had her shoulders thrown back, with her hips thrust forward and an unusual, perhaps for a limber dancer, with her foot out stretched, looking a bit awkward but not for a dancer in such perfect shape and balance.
Gustave Courbet: “LeMoulin” The Mill: Marvelous cliff side showing the different layers of rock behind and above the mill with a beautiful yellow patch of a shallow spot in the pool with golden, dried grasses on it.
I made my tour of the exhibit and then sat down in the long hallway to the gallery from the welcome desk. Directly across from me was a flat-screen TV playing a six minute clip from 1915 showing Claude Monet, Edward Degas, Pierre Auguste Renoir. By 1915 these artist were long past the beginning artists they once were. Anyone watching the film in 1915 would be treated to the image of super stars of the painting world. The Degas footage was just the old man with a long white beard walking down the street in a suit with an overcoat being carried under his arm. The Monet footage showed the artist talking to the film director. It looks bizarre. White hat, white jacket and pants, white shirt, and full white beard. The hat shadows the face down past the nose. The mustache is dark and the tuft of beard under the lower lip looks stained and resembles a child sticking his tongue out at you while you talk and listen. Once section of the film shows Monet working on a painting in his garden, which has weeping birches and a pond of lily pads. The wind is blowing limbs as Monet looks at the landscape, touches his paint brush to his palette and then dabs the paint brush to the canvas. The third piece is an arthritic Renoir in his suit sitting down and working on a painting. Both hands are fist like with perhaps a band or bandage keeping the fingers closed. As he talks with the director, Renoir’s son helps his father by pulling one paint brush out and sliding another in, so the master can add paint to his brush and make a stroke. Also, gripped in his hands is a cigarette. The son pulls it out when it gets too close the senior’s fingers. I must have watched this film four or five times through. I was fascinated by the ordinariness of the actions. The extra ordinariness was behind their eyes. I thought about other artists and how they might have appeared on camera. I dream of Vincent Van Gogh attacking a canvas and slashing his colors, but perhaps in his everyday world he too, just touched brush to paint and then paint to canvas.
I like one of the side rooms in the museum, where you can be your own artist. Children love to paint and draw there. I had the urge while I was there as well.
Oil paintings like those on display illustrate the difference between reality and the impression of reality. Generally, a photographer want to have a sharp focus. Paintings and especially impressionists aren’t bothered with the need of a sharp focus. At some focal point a sharpness appears in the mind’s eye, but not on the canvas. This is illustrated by the best of this exhibit in a sequence of works by Eugene Boudin. This beach scene oil painting is not in the Tacoma gallery. Note all the people, young and old along the ocean side. It’s only when you step back away from the images that the smears of oil and color take shape.
The visit to the Tacoma Art Museum was a wonderful hour and a half. This exhibit runs ONLY through January 19th (closed Monday).