Magazine article Newsweek International

A Meeting of the Minds; Small Museums in France and America Swap Their Best Works

Magazine article Newsweek International

A Meeting of the Minds; Small Museums in France and America Swap Their Best Works

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Plagens

Art collector Alfred Bruyas (1821-77) was looking for what he called "the solution" to the problem of, well, the whole unpleasantness of modern life. Bruyas thought he'd find the answer in "a painting that unites everything through its wonderful poems." He kept collecting and collecting but, needless to say, never found the all-solving picture he was looking for. Bruyas did, however, amass a nice little trove of art--including many works by Gustave Courbet--which he gave to his hometown museum. Now the excellent but unflashy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond is using that collection to solve its own problem: how to elevate its somewhat second-tier status and get a taste of the fanfare that usually goes to the likes of the Metropolitan Museum or MoMA in New York. While simply mounting "Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet! The Bruyas Collection From the Musee Fabre, Montpellier" (through June 13) obviously isn't the solution for the VMFA, it's an excellent start.

The show consists of 70 paintings, drawings and sculptures by such academy favorites as Thomas Couture and Alexandre Cabanel, as well as avant-gardists like Courbet and Eugene Delacroix. It's a smart, concise and tangy sampling of French art during the decades when realism was giving way to the precursors of impressionism. The exhibition is also the fifth major show produced under the auspices of an organization called French Regional and American Museum Exchange, or FRAME. The consortium was started five years ago to give museums outside Paris--and beyond America's East Coast--the resources to swap first-rate shows and thereby compete with the big boys in the cultural capitals. Other American members include municipal museums in Cleveland; Dallas; Minneapolis; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco, and St. Louis. French fellows include the chief art museums in Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Rennes, Rouen, Strasbourg and Toulouse, as well as Montpellier. …

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