WITH ITS AMBITIOUS "TURNER, WHISTLER, Monet: Impressionist Visions" opening next month, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, in conjunction with the Reunion des Musees Nationaux and Tate Britain, joins recent curatorial attempts to reshuffle the deck of nineteenth-century art. Rather than conform to the monographic blockbuster or utilize neat categories like Romanticism, realism, Impressionism, or symbolism to provide shape and substance, these exhibitions seek out new relationships among works and artists that bridge temporal or national boundaries. Such was the case, for example, with "Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism," a traveling show (it ended last fall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) that successfully charted exchanges between French and English art from 1820 to 1840. Lead curator Patrick Noon argued for a greatly expanded conception of Romanticism and demonstrated the links, both formal and iconographic, uniting Britain and France during the headiest years of the movement.
The Toronto show comprises one hundred paintings, watercolors, pastels, and prints by Turner, Whistler, and Monet and claims to "provide the first opportunity to explore the extraordinary artistic dialogue that takes place between their works." This reciprocation is embedded in both themes and visual styles, and, once more, the fruitful exchange of ideas between Britain and France in the construction of artistic movements--here, Impressionism and symbolism--is insisted on.
Yet as so often happens with exhibitions purporting to show new "influences" and "interactions," difference, rather than similarity, is foregrounded once the works are considered all together. Take, for instance, the pairing of Monet and Turner: Even though Monet admired the older artist, it is Harold Bloom's ever-handy "misprision" that dominates in a comparison of Turner's Dogano, San Giorgio, 1842, and …