Magazine article USA TODAY

Masterpieces from Turner to Cezanne: This Was "A Crucial Moment in the History of Art, When European Painting Was Undergoing a Revolution in Style, Theme, and Technique."

Magazine article USA TODAY

Masterpieces from Turner to Cezanne: This Was "A Crucial Moment in the History of Art, When European Painting Was Undergoing a Revolution in Style, Theme, and Technique."

Article excerpt

THE EXHIBITION "Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales" features more than 50 works--most of which never have been on view in the U.S.--including masterpieces by Paul Cezanne, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Honore Daumier, Augustus John, Edouard Manet, Jean-Francois Millet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissaro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, J.M.W. Turner, and Vincent van Gogh.

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The works have been drawn exclusively from the extraordinary collection of the Davies sisters, Gwendoline and Margaret, who actively sought to collect canvases that reflected the major movements of the time. The pair collected during a crucial moment in the history of art, when European painting was undergoing a revolution in style, theme, and technique. The exhibition traces the evolution of early modem art, beginning with examples of dramatic Romanticism exemplified by Turner through the expressionist Post-Impressionism of Van Gogh. Spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the exhibit contains masterworks of Realism, Naturalism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism by their greatest exponents.

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"This exhibition makes important links between the development of Western art and the stories of those who collected it," notes Beatrice Gralton, assistant curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran Gallery. "In this case, the stories of Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, the wealthy granddaughters of a Welsh industrialist, who chose to spend their inherited for tune on developing an extraordinary art collection, are inextricably linked to the works. They were local in concern but international in their vision. Collecting art appears to be an interest pursued by the sisters as a means to connecting to an alternate world, in a quiet--yet hugely influential--manner."

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Works on view include Joseph Mallord William Turner's "The Storm" (c. 1843); Millet's dramatic "The Gust of Wind" (1871-73); Renoir's "La Parisienne" (1874), a figure who represents the era's shifting sense of modernity; Van Gogh's "Rain-Auvers" (1890), completed just weeks prior to the artist ending his own life; and Cezanne's once-controversial "The Francois Zola Dam" (1877-78).

Turner's "The Storm," purchased by Margaret Davies in 1908, was the first of the artist's oil paintings in the sisters' collection; they would come to acquire some 21 works by Turner, who was known for his atmospheric treatment of paint and moody depictions of nature, particularly the sea. "The Storm" is a masterwork of the sublime. Emblematic of Turner's late work showing chaotic, storm-tossed seas, a wreck of a boat is engulfed by waves, its ropes flailing like tentacles. A group of figures, barely visible, huddle at the back of the stricken vessel, and an eerie green "light" is cast over the scene.

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Millet's "The Gust of Wind" also emphasizes the classic struggle of man against the forces of nature. The scene is set on the windswept peninsula of La Hague, west of Cherbourg, France, where Millet grew up. The tiny figure of a shepherd is running for cover from a falling tree, its roots ripped from the ground. While the foreground brushwork shows the effect of the storm on the rocky ground and the wind-lashed pond, the focal point is high on the horizon, emphasizing the smallness of the shepherd in the face of the storm. …

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