Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Masters of Art Smith College Collection at Cummer Showcases a Time of Incredible Changes in Style

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Masters of Art Smith College Collection at Cummer Showcases a Time of Incredible Changes in Style

Article excerpt

From the late 18th century, a time when France stood on the precipice of revolution, to the early 20th century, when all Europe danced on the rim of the volcano that was World War I, the dominant style of European art underwent a shocking transition.

The decadent rococco style seen in Louis-Leopold Boilly's A Young Painter and His Model (c. 1788-92) would give way to the grim realism of Gustave Courbet's The Preparation of the Dead Girl (c. 1850-55). That realism would in turn be swept aside by the shocking vibrancy of the Impressionists, represented in masterpieces such as Claude Monet's The Seine at Bougival (1869) and Cathedral at Rouen (1892-94). That revolutionary break with traditional styles would open the door to increasing experimentation, such as Pablo Picasso's Table, Guitar and Bottle (1919-1920) and Wassily Kandinsky's Autumn Impression (1908), signposts on the road to Abstract Expression, Modernism and Post-Modernism.

This vibrant era in European art is beautifully displayed in a new exhibit opening this week at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. From "Corot to Picasso: European Masterwork from the Smith College Museum of Art" includes 58 paintings and sculptures. The Smith College collection, which is traveling due to a Smith museum expansion project in Northampton, Mass., was assembled following a plan implemented by the museum's first director, Alfred Vance Churchill, who wanted to tell the story of "the Development of Modern Art."

One happy benefit of this is that the collection is rich in major works by the great artists of French Impressionism, among them Monet, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Maarten van der Guchte, curator and interim director of the Cummer, suggested that Impressionism appeals to a nostalgic streak in the American character. "It harkens back to a different time," he said, "a time when things seemed more manageable. It's colorful. And there's an innocence to Impression and an optimism. . . .

"We all would like to live in a house looking onto an Impressionist garden. We all would like to date a girl with a parasol."

"It's bright and pretty and you don't have to think about it," said John Turnock, an associate professor of art at Jacksonville University, who hastened to add that those qualities appeal to him as well. "I love Impressionism."

Preston Haskell, outgoing chairman of the Cummer board of directors and a collector of Abstract Expressionism, thinks people like Impressionism because it strikes a balance between the vivid but abstracted approach typical of modern art and the representational style of the realists and neo-classicists who were in vogue before Impressionism.

"The Impressionists are representational, while at the same time being abstracted," he said. …

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