Making a unique Impression

‘Modern Times’ offers visitors an unprecedent opportunity.

By NERIA BARR
October 25, 2018 19:01
Making a unique Impression

CLAUDE MONET ‘Japanese Footbridge, Giverny’ (1895) Philadelphia Museum of Art. (photo credit: Courtesy)

It is a unique privilege for the museum,” says Suzanne Landau, director of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the curator of the new exhibition “Modern Times - Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.” “I am very excited and honored to work with such masterpieces, it doesn’t happen very often,” she declares.

The exhibition, which opened at the Tel Aviv Museum on October 11, is the result of a collaboration between the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (TAMA). It is accompanied by a catalogue in English and Hebrew.

Following their exhibition at the Palazzo Reale in Milan, 50 masterpieces from the renowned collection of the PMA will be exhibited for the first time in Israel. Presenting this historical and significant collection offers the Israeli public a rare opportunity to explore some of art history’s greatest moments.

Spanning a period of 90 years of European art, from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, “Modern Times” presents canonical works from several art movements by some of the great masters, such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dalí, Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, Georges Braque, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Vassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Édouard Manet, Joan Miró, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Founded in 1876, the PMA is a museum of international scope and stature, one of the oldest and finest public art museums in the United States. Its remarkable collection of some 240,000 works spans centuries of artistic creation. The breadth and diversity of its collections are perhaps most apparent in several spectacular works of art, ranging from tapestries from the mid-17th century by Peter Paul Rubens and Pietro da Cortona to Alexander Calder’s mobile Ghost, Marcel Duchamp’s installation The Large Glass, and Cy Twombly’s 10-part series of paintings titled Fifty Days at Iliam.

“It is very important to emphasize the significance of the PMA collection. Spanning more than 2,000 years, its crowning glory is the Impressionist, post-Impressionist and the early 20th-century avant-garde collection,” says Landau.

“How this collection came about is a fascinating story. Apparently, the upper class of the Philadelphia society was the first to collect the impressionist art, which at that time was considered revolutionary and unaccepted. Today we regard those artists as being classic masters, but at the time they were very unconventional. The Philadelphians were among the first to collect Impressionists, and the person behind the exposure of these artists, was the artist Mary Cassatt,” Landau explains.

“Cassatt was born in 1844 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. She studied art at the Philadelphia Academy and moved to Paris, where she became involved with the Impressionists. She was especially close to Renoir and Degas but also very friendly with Manet, Monet and others in the group,” Landau says. “In fact, one of the paintings in the exhibition, a work by Degas, was the first acquisition Cassatt made for her brother Alexander, who was the president of the Pennsylvania railroad. Others followed them and started buying European art. Cassatt’s parents and her sister Lydia followed her to Paris. She often used her sister as a model and an example is the painting of a woman at the opera,” she says, referring to the 1879 oil painting Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge, which is included in the exhibition.

EDGAR DEGAS, ‘The Ballet Class’ (c. 1880) Philadelphia Museum of Art (Courtesy)

The relationship between the impressionist artists was fascinating, open and highly influenced their art in many ways, Landau says.

“Pissarro and Cezanne were very close friends, therefore in the exhibition we installed their works next to each other. Pissarro influenced many artists to the extent that Cezanne, and many others, considered him to be their mentor. They used to work together in the countryside, trying to ‘capture a moment in time.’ That was one of the new approaches – to paint outdoors and try to catch that moment in time and the light at different hours of the day. Monet is famous for his series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, as well as his haystacks at different hours of the day. On one hand the impressionists were excited about catching the “fleeting moment” out in the nature, but they were also enthusiastic about the modern life in the city. Renoir painted figures in nature, but he also loved painting city scenes. Cassatt especially loved painting scenes in the opera – it was considered the epitome of modernity.

People went to the opera to see and be seen,” she explains.

“There were three outstanding female artists in that time – Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot and Marie Laurencin,” says Landau. “And we have to understand, that to be a female artist at that time was very courageous and brave.”

“There is an intriguing story about Berthe Morisot,” Landau continues. “She came from a wealthy family, and private art classes were part of her and her sister’s education. At some point, the sisters’ art teacher warned their parents that the girls were too talented and ‘there was a risk that they might decide to become artists…’ In those days, that was not considered an appropriate career for a young woman to pursue. Despite the warning, Berthe decided to become an artist, her sister followed the path previously set for her, and became a wife and a mother. Berthe was very charming and beautiful and was one of Manet’s favorite models. The artist once said about the Morisot sisters that ‘They are so charming, it is a pity that they are not men – a statement which only illustrates the difficult position of women artists in that time.”

“Despite liberating art from academic genres and techniques, they all wanted to show their works at The Salon, but were rejected in most cases. The first Impressionist exhibition took place in 1874, at the studio of the photographer Felix Nadar. And yet, they all wanted to be accepted to The Salon,” she says.

Getting back to the exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum, Landau again stresses the importance of the PMA collection.

“It is the result of very generous art collectors, who donated entire collections of high quality art works to the museum, that made this collection outstanding. Collectors like Albert Eugen Gallatin, Louise and Walter Arensberg or Louis E. Stern donated to PMA hundreds of works. The first time the Arensbergs were exposed to Impressionist art was at the Armory Show in New York in 1913. that moment on, they started to collect art. At the Armory Show they met Marcel Duchamp, who exhibited his famous Nude Descending a Staircase, and they became friends. They even gave him a room in their home, and he became their art advisor,” Landau recounts.

Another interesting fact that Landau notes, is that in the TAMA exhibition, there are works by the same artists from different periods.

“For instance, there is an early work from 1875 by Renoir, The Grands Boulevards, and also the Bather, a nude in nature that he painted in 1918, a year before he died. It is important to see and follow the changes in artists’ style. We also have works by Picasso from 1906 - a sculpture - Head of a Jester. It was actually a portrait of his friend Max Jacob, who later perished in the Holocaust. There is also a very important work from Picasso’s early Cubist period; and a work from the Analytical Cubism (1911-1912) - A Figure with a Violin; and a work from 1961, depicting Picasso’s second wife, Jacqueline Roque with two girls - her daughter Catherine, and Paloma, Picasso’s and Francois Gilot’s daughter,” Landau says.

She continues, “There are also two portraits of the Roulin family by Van Gogh, who became friendly with the artist during his stay in Arles. Van Gogh painted 25 portraits of the family members, and we have two - a portrait of the mother with the baby Marcelle and a portrait of the young boy Camille.” In conclusion, Landau explains how this significant exhibition came to be.

“I was in Milan in May and saw the exhibition at Palazzo Reale. The closing date was September 2nd. And I thought - Milan is not so far from Tel Aviv, I must try to bring this exhibition to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’. To my delight the Director and the Board of PMA agreed to bring the exhibition to TAMA, and we started a marathon to be able to open the exhibition in October. We managed to put it together quickly, as well as to create our own catalogue. Quite an accomplishment and definitely an important achievement for the museum,” the curator asserts.

“Modern Times: An exhibition of masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art” at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. October 11, 2018 to February 2, 2019


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