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Impressionism & Post Impressionism at MFAH

Submitted by Commandrea on February 19, 2024 – 1:45 pmNo Comment

The painting in front of me was alive, which is to say it was shimmering. It’s literally awake with motion. I’m standing in from of Renoir’s Pont Neuf, Paris (1872). Pont Neuf’s in the center of Paris and the first bridge built there. The painting’s one of 50 from the Washington D.C. National Gallery of Art on display at the MFAH until late May.

I do a double take at the painting, it cannot really be moving. Wrong, Pont Neuf’s unmistakably undulating with the rays of early morning sunlight glimmering off the tops of hats and edges of windows, gleaming from the stones of the bridge and highlighting a man on a horse statue blocks away. I step over to two other Renoirs hanging in a row next to Pont Neuf, The Dancer and Oarsmen at Chatou, and they’re not vibrating in the same way. I walk into the next gallery where the three Van Gogh’s are hanging and they’re not vibrating although they are definitely electric.

The National Gallery of Art celebrates its 70th anniversary March 17 and the paintings on tour (Houston is the only American city on the itinerary) represent textbook examples of Impressionism and Post Impressionism.

There’s Van Gogh’s self portrait, and even though he painted over three dozen self portraits this is the one he etched in one sitting after a stay at a sanitarium following an incident where he mutilated his left ear. Curator Kimberly Jones explains how this particular painting was done with Van Gogh painting his image by looking at himself in a mirror, thus his left ear that is turned to the viewer is really his undamaged right ear. A similar obscure visual clue occurs in the painting Masked Ball at the Opera (1873) by Manet. You can see his name on the painting but on a business card that’s been placed on the floor in the frame’s bottom right hand corner.

Even the experts mix up the names of Edouard Manet and Claude Monet. Both are well hung here. Artists like Van Gogh and Cezanne and Gauguin didn’t sit around calling themselves post-impressionist. That was a tag coined much later by critics. They too are abundant on the MFAH walls. Actually Gauguin and Van Gogh are prominent in the 1956 film Lust for Life, and that Vincente Minnelli film has never been surpassed in its vision of the artist in turmoil.

A lot of time has passed since the first Impressionism exhibit in Paris in 1874 and the first Impressionism exhibit in New York in 1886. But these works of art still have undeniable importance and resonance.

- Michael Bergeron

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