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The Frick (NYC) Presents: The Impressionist Line from Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec

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This spring (March 12 through June 16, 2013) the Frick will present a selection of nineteenth-century French drawings and prints from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Remarkable sheets by Jean-François Millet, Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and other masters will be on view in the lower-level galleries and Cabinet. Ranging widely in subject matter and technique and spanning the entire second half of the nineteenth century, the fifty-eight works represent the diverse interests of Realist, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist artists in a rapidly changing world.

The exhibition is organized by Colin B. Bailey and Susan Grace Galassi of The Frick Collection and by Jay A. Clarke of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and is made possible by The Florence Gould Foundation. Comments Colin Bailey, “the Clark is an internationally renowned and respected institution with significant and enviable holdings in many areas, above all in nineteenth-century French art.

The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication on the Clark’s holdings in nineteenth-century French drawings and prints. Related education programs hosted by the Frick during this presentation include lectures, seminars, gallery conversations, and special events.

A PERIOD OF CHANGE IN THE ARTS REFLECTED IN WORKS ON PAPER

The profound changes revolutionizing the arts during the second half of the nineteenth century were no less significant for works on paper than for painting. This period witnessed an enormous expansion of the art market with affordable prices and a burgeoning middle-class eager to buy into the unfolding modern movement; the revival of old and the emergence of new techniques and media; and a productive tension between high and low art. With challenges to the academic tradition and to long-accepted hierarchies of genre and subject matter, scenes of gritty reality replaced morally uplifting themes, and mythological goddesses were pushed aside by frankly sexual nudes. Landscape, now ascendant as a genre, flourished in scenes of labor and leisure in the remote countryside, urban parks, or idylls on far-flung islands. At the same time, traditional standards of finish and correctness of form gave way to an emphasis on expression and the mark of the artist’s hand. As Jay A. Clarke, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Clark, discusses in her introductory essay to the exhibition’s catalogue, nineteenth-century literature on drawings and prints emphasized qualities of spontaneity, creative freedom, and expressiveness over polished form. This stress on the originality of the hand-drawn arts served to differentiate these forms from photography and photomechanical reproductive processes, and fine art publications and exhibitions dedicated to promoting drawings and prints proliferated. Nevertheless, artists borrowed freely from commercial and popular forms, quickly absorbing new procedures and techniques in the flexible media of drawing and printmaking.

DEGAS, FROM VIRTUOSO EXERCISE TO AUDACIOUS EXPERIMENTS

One of the earliest works in the exhibition is a sheet made by Edgar Degas while still a student of the École des Beaux-Arts. Since the founding of the Academy in the seventeenth century, generations of students followed a prescribed curriculum in order to acquire the shared language and subjects of classical representation. While the Academy’s prestige waned in the later nineteenth century, its methods still formed the educational foundation of many of the most progressive artists. Here, Degas depicts the half-length figure of a model in profile and full face, each exhibiting a different expression. The clenched hand emerging from the sleeve of the figure in profile positioned in the center of the sheet ingeniously serves both views of the man. This beautiful study sheet attests to Degas’s early mastery of composition and the methods of classical draftsmanship, as seen in the subtle range of light and dark and polished finish that rivals Ingres. From such virtuoso exercises sprang Degas’s later audacious experiments with the human figure in motion, as demonstrated in the many examples in this exhibition.

Jean-François Millet (1814–1875), The Sower, c. 1865, pastel and Conté crayon on paper, © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts; Photo credit: Michael Agee

MILLET’S EXPRESSIVE EXECUTION OF HIS SUBJECT MATTER

Virtuosity gives way to a more expressive, rough-hewn execution suitable to the subject matter of Jean-François Millet’s Sower—a paean to the heroic laborer. This pastel reprieves the subject of one of Millet’s most famous paintings of fifteen years earlier (now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and is one of several versions commissioned by clients trying to corner the market for his pastels. In the Clark sheet, the sower’s powerful striding body is dramatically silhouetted against the vast expanse of dark furrowed earth, the brim of his hat intersecting with the high horizon line. Above, distinct curvilinear strokes of light-colored pastel suggest the last rays of the setting sun in a dramatic windswept sky, underlying the significance of the sower’s activity. Tinges of blue and rose in the clouds echo the colors of the peasant’s clothing and unite the celestial and terrestrial realms through the laborer. A small figure on the horizon with a team of horses and a harrow provides a sense of scale and the enormity of the sower’s task. The timeless figure echoes earlier representations of rural laborers such as those found in the Très Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry and the bucolic landscapes of Poussin.

PISARRO CHALLENGES NOTIONS OF FINISH

Like Millet, Camille Pissarro spent much of his career depicting peasants and unembellished scenes of rural life, although the urban cityscape seized his imagination as well. His large pastel Boulevard de Rochechouart depicts a slice of Paris in the years following Baron Haussman’s renewal of the city. For the writers and artists of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the pulse and rhythm of the grands boulevards symbolized modernity, as eloquently expressed in Baudelaire’s famous essay of 1863 “Peintre de la Vie Moderne.” Through hatched, unblended strokes in a multitude of colors, Pissarro achieves a sense of transparency that captures the shifting sensations of a city in constant flux. His high viewpoint plunges the viewer into the melee of a tree-lined place, with carriages and omnibuses circulating and pedestrians dispersing into the streets. These anonymous urban dwellers dressed in dark clothing are mere blurs in the lively milieu, a world away from Millet’s monumental figure who commands the space of his environment. Although the pastel appears closer to a sketch than a completed work, Pissarro deliberately challenged accepted notions of finish. He signed and dated the sheet and exhibited it as an independent work alongside his paintings and smaller drawings in the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881.

Paul Gauguin (1848–1903), Joys of Brittany, from the Volpini Suite, 1889, zincograph on paper, © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts; Photo credit: Michael Agee

GAUGUIN EXPERIMENTS WITH PRINTMAKING TECHNIQUES

In Paul Gauguin’s Joys of Brittany, the scene shifts from urban modernity to rural utopia. Here Gauguin extends his bold, simplified manner of drawing to the technique of zincography. Although a novice printmaker, Gauguin chose to work on a grained zinc plate in crayon and tusche wash applied with a brush, a challenging method that afforded him a subtle range of tonal and textural effects. In this sheet, one of eleven zincographs printed on striking canary yellow paper, Breton girls in clogs and traditional headdresses perform a country dance. The work forms part of the so-called Volpini Suite, named for the proprietor of the Café des Arts, where Gauguin and his friends staged a show in direct opposition to the officially sanctioned exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts during the run of the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Based loosely on works in other media that Gauguin made in Martinique, Arles, and Brittany over the previous two years, the suite depicts figures engaged in simple pleasures in changing landscape settings, themes underscored in his deliberately crude, expressive manner. His choice of commercially produced yellow paper—very different from the pale tones of the more expensive, handmade papers typically used by artists—contributes to the liveliness of his images and a sense of displacement from the realm of traditional printmaking.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901), The Seated Clowness (Miss Cha-U-Kao), from the Elles Portfolio, 1896, color lithograph on paper,

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Le Jockey, 1899. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

TOULOUSE-LAUTREC CREATED AN INDELIBLE IMAGE OF LIFE IN PARIS

Along with his paintings and drawings, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters and prints created an indelible image of the Parisian underclass that inhabited the world of brothels, cabarets, and dance halls. His dynamic compositions and brilliant color combinations raised the bar of artistic expression for color lithography, a technique championed as a fine art beginning only in the 1890s. One of Lautrec’s most famous prints, The Seated Clowness (front), epitomizes these qualities, along with the artist’s sardonic humor. Here, a performer at the Moulin Rouge known as Miss Cha-U-Kao (a name derived from “chaotic Can-can”) sits alone in an outlandish yellow ruff and black tights, provocatively posing for both the artist and passers-by at what appears to be a masked ball. Lautrec’s genius for composition can be appreciated in the relationship of the figure’s bent and extended legs to her arms, which mirror her lower limbs in inverted form. The sheet is part of Lautrec’s magnificent Elles Portfolio, an album of prints that has traditionally been thought to depict the stages of a prostitute’s day—a common theme in Japanese prints, which also were a source of inspiration for the high-keyed color and simplified perspective often used in his prints. More recently, the suite has been interpreted as portraying the domestic life of lesbian entertainers and prostitutes. Several sheets feature Cha-U-Kao and her lover. While commissioned for a purveyor of erotic and pornographic prints, the album is surprisingly free of salacious content, showing instead Lautrec’s affection for his beloved denizens of the demimonde, a world he himself inhabited. This work and several others by Toulouse-Lautrec, are shown together in the Cabinet, offering a striking conclusion to the exhibition.

ABOUT THE CLARK

Sterling and Francine Clark, American collectors a generation younger than Henry Clay Frick, founded the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and it opened to the public in 1955. The Clark’s collection—works dating from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century—is renowned especially for its nineteenth-century French art. In the summer of 2014 the Clark will complete its campus expansion program with the opening of a new visitor, exhibition, and conference center designed by Tadao Ando.

WELCOME PUBLICATION ON THIS BODY OF WORKS ON PAPER

The exhibition coincides with the publication of a new volume on the notable French artists represented in the collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. The Impressionist Line from Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec: Drawings and Prints from the Clark is edited by Jay A. Clarke; with essays by Mary Weaver Chapin, Jay A. Clarke, Anne Higonnet, Richard Kendall, and Alastair Wright. Color reproductions of 101 works—ranging from chalk drawings by Charles-François Daubigny and Edgar Degas to woodcuts by Paul Gauguin and lithographs by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec—accompany important reconsiderations of well-known works and print series. Essays by five prominent scholars consider the political, social, cultural, and market conditions that governed and motivated printmaking and drawing and examine how key artists contributed to the development of the graphic arts in nineteenth-century France. The book concludes with a complete checklist of works included in the accompanying exhibition.
Jay A. Clarke, co-organizer of the exhibition, is Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Mary Weaver Chapin is curator of graphic arts at the Portland Art Museum. Anne Higonnet is professor of art history at Barnard College. Richard Kendall is curator-at-large for the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Alastair Wright is university lecturer in history of art and tutorial fellow at St. John’s College, University of Oxford. The book (ISBN: 978030191936) features 160 pages, 101 color illustrations, and is available in softcover ($45.00; member price $40.50) in the Museum Shop of The Frick Collection, on the Web site (www.frick.org), and by phone at 212.547.6848.

ALSO IN THE EXHIBITION:

Edgar Degas (1834–1917) Two Portrait Studies of a Man, c. 1856–57 Graphite with stumping with touches of white chalk on pink wove paper 17 5/16 x 11 3/8 inches © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1393

Honoré Daumier (1808–1879) The Drinkers, c. 1860 Watercolor, pen and ink, and charcoal on cream laid paper 9 7/16 x 10 1⁄2 inches © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1504

Édouard Manet (1832–1883) The Toilette, 1862
Etching and open biting printed in brown-black on cream laid paper 20 9/16 x 13 7/8 inches © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1962.80

Claude Monet (1840–1926) The Port at Touques, c. 1864
Black chalk on blued white laid paper 8 1⁄4 x 13 inches © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2006.5

Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) Alms from a Beggar at Ornans, 1868
Graphite with stumping, squared, with touches of crayon on cream wove paper 11 5/16 x 8 11/16 inches © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1846

Édouard Manet (1832–1883) Execution of Maximilian, 1868, printed 1884
Lithograph on white chine-collé on white wove paper 20 1⁄4 x 26 5/8 inches © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, Acquired in memory of Rafael Fernandez (Curator of Prints and Drawings, 1975–1994), with contributions from his friends, colleagues, and students, 2000.4

Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) Boulevard de Rochechouart, 1880
Pastel on beige wove paper 23 9/16 x 28 15/16 inches © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1996.5

Edgar Degas (1834–1917) After the Bath, c. 1891–92
Charcoal, with stumping, on beige wove paper 14 x 9 3⁄4 inches © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1408

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) Mademoiselle Marcelle Lender, Bust-Length, 1895
Lithograph printed in brown-green, yellow, red, dark pink, green, blue, gray, and yellow-green on cream wove paper 19 9/16 x 14 3⁄4 inches © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1442

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) The Bathers: Large Plate, 1898
Lithograph printed in black, green, yellow-green, orange, gray, blue, and purple-blue on cream laid paper 19 x 24 13/16 inches © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1962.26

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