AN EXHIBITION of 19th- and 20th-century paintings from Scotland's Kelvingrove Art Gallery features several of the re-nowned artists who worked in France during that extraordinary period of creativity. The gallery houses what is widely acknowledged as the most-important municipal collection of French paintings in Great Britain, an accomplishment that owes much to Glasgow's culture at the turn of the 20th century.
Organized thematically, works begin with various realist styles, including the landscape painters of the Barbizon School. Located southeast of Paris in the forest of Fountainbleau, the quiet village of Barbizon attracted several landscape and figure painters in the mid 1850s who recorded the life of the peasants in the countryside and responded to the passage of light in different seasons.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, the artist around whom the Barbizon painters gathered, is well represented in the exhibition as one of the most-prominent landscape painters preceding the Impressionists. Corot's landscape "The Woodcutter" is a delightful, silvery atmospheric piece that illustrates the artist's working method. While Corot's results were revolutionary, the basis of his technique was a conservative modeling of light and shade to depict rounded forms. "For me, these are the bases of what is serious in art," he wrote. "Color and finish put charm into one's work. In preparing a study or a picture, it seems to me very important to begin by an indication of the darkest values ... and continue in order to the lightest value. From the darkest to the lightest I would establish twenty shades ..."
Another notable member of the Barbizon School, Jean-Francois Millet, is known for his landscapes as well as images of French peasants, such as those in "Going to Work" who are presented as monumental figures striding bravely in the early morning light. Jules Breton's "The Reapers" offers a similarly idyllic vision of the rural poor. Standing on the edge of a field under harvest, the women depicted seem a graceful and wholesome contrast to the Industrial Revolution.
The smallest aspect of nature would not escape the Realists. Gustave Courbet's "Apple, Pear, and Orange" and Francois Saint Bonvin's "Still Life with Apples and Silver Goblet" are starkly different in emotional impact, while remaining within the movement's broad framework. These painters' exploration of the native landscapes of France is often seen as the precursor to the Impressionists' investigation of the suburbs and parks of Paris, as in Camille Pissarro's early Barbizon-inspired "The Banks of the Marne." Pissarro not only would become a formidable presence in Impressionism, but would provide a key link in the shift to Post-Impressionism, each of which is represented powerfully in the exhibition.
The term Impressionism was first coined by journalist Louis Leroy to ridicule not only Claude Monet's landscape "Impression Sunrise," but the other artists--such as Pissarro, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir--exhibiting together in what has come to be known as the First Impressionist Exhibition. …