Journal - Inspiring Impressionism

To my mind,” Paul Cézanne observed, “one does not put oneself in place of the past, one only adds a new link.”

Even the most revolutionary artistic movements are grounded in older traditions. Although the Impressionists’ work seemed a daring rejection of what came before, they did find inspiration in artists from the Renaissance to the eighteenth century. Some revered those Old Masters, some rejected the traditions of the past, and others took their lessons and re-invented them to reflect modern life.

This extraordinary exhibition requires yet another Cultural Excursion to Denver to see Impressionist works right next to the Old Master works that inspired them in a Louvre-fueled show from Paris, France. We made our reservations, trekked westward, and took the audio tour.

It was an interesting question to ask whether all the boats in Monet's "Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil" float? This Exhibit features the Impressionist movement of the turn of the last century finding its main proponents in French artists. The emphasis here, however, is on what older works may have moved and motivated such artists as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne.

One very distinctive section of this new show looks at the tradition of modern-era artists learning by studying the work of masters at the Louvre, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo's "The Beggar Boy" of around 1650 being one of the most-copied canvases in Western art's modern history.

From the outset, "Inspiring Impressionism" reminded us of the Louvre treasures all around us: The Impressionism show's entry gallery is flanked by a handsome photographic treatment of Louis Jules Arnout's "View of the Grand Gallery at the Louvre" from between 1850 and 1870. In that original painting and color lithograph that followed, Arnout captured the bustle of artists working and visitors promenading in the Louvre's chief exhibition space that runs along the Seine in Paris.

In fact, even older-era echoes of this same concept are encountered on looking at "The Tiber" marble from the first century A.D., you're reminded that Michelangelo himself was aware of that piece, influenced by it, presumably inspired by it.

So a surprise symmetry takes shape at the Denver Art Museum, as we contemplate dialogues between museums, the viewers of art in Europe and the United States, and the artists themselves in France, in the U.S. and elsewhere. The Museum brochures calls these synchronicities "visual evidence of connections."

Literature available at the Exhibit, by Timothy Standring of Denver and Ann Dumas of London, England, have held up their end of this conversational eyeful with timely contributions, glimpses of Old World craft from Titian and Velasquez to Fragonard and Rubens — and the "moderns" who saw beyond them to a new age of aesthetic debate.

Something not to be missed are some of the comments and writings of various artists, used as part of the display of the show at the DAM. Degas may have said it most honestly: "No art is less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of refection and the study of the Old Masters."

We were inspired. It was a good day.

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