They say one man’s loss is another’s gain and none so true as the Royal Academy in London takes charge of some major Impressionists works from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
This exhibition illustrates the Clark’s holdings of French 19th-century art, with particular emphasis upon Impressionism. Luckily for the Royal Academy, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is currently undergoing a major refurbishment and has decided to loan out, for the first time ever, the majority of its Impressionists holdings of 19th-century French paintings.
The 70 or so Impressionists paintings include works by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley and Morisot, as well as an exceptional group of more than twenty paintings by Renoir.
The collection also showcases important works by pre-Impressionist artists such as Corot, Théodore Rousseau and J-F. Millet, as well as examples of highly polished ‘academic’ paintings by Gérôme, Alma-Tadema and Bouguereau. For lovers of Impressionist Art, most of the paintings will be fairly familiar, but some will not be so.
For instance, a painting by Théodore Rousseau, called Farm in the Landes, has never been seen anywhere other than the Clark Art Institute since it left the studio where it was painted.
This exhibition is unlike any ordinary Impressionist gathering of works, as it strongly reflects the personal tastes of its two founding members. Sterling Clark, heir to the Singer sewing machine empire, met the French actress Francine Clary and they began to collect paintings and drawings.
They started with Old Masters but soon discovered that French Impressionists paintings were much cheaper to purchase. And showing a great nous for what looked right, he not only bought paintings by Impressionists, but ones from artists who had preceded them that had shaped and influenced them.
They purchased works by Renoir before he became an established artist and acquired works by Degas through his atelier sales.
The 70 Impressionists works in the exhibition are presented by genre, not artist, in an attempt to reveal the range of subject matter and diversity of stylistic approach in French 19th-century art.
The groups of Impressionists works include: landscapes and cityscapes; marine views; genre paintings depicting scenes of everyday life; nudes; still lifes; portraits – including self portraits of artists central to the exhibition such as Renoir and Degas, and paintings reflecting the contemporary interest in Orientalism.
The Impressionists exhibition begins with still life, passes through landscape to portraiture, moves from genre paintings to studies of the female nude, and ends with a collection of self-portraits. Sterling & Clark have kept some of the original invoices detailing the amounts certain works were purchased for, which you can examine in a separate room in the Academy.
For instance, in 1923 Sterling bought Manet’s late Moss Roses in a Vase for $5,000. At prices of 2010, that amounts to around $63,800, and if sold today it would probably fetch one hundred times as much. But his greatest passion had to be Renoir with his collection of 39 works, 21 of which are at the Royal Academy.
This beautiful Impressionists exhibition is a must for anyone visiting London in the next couple of months.
From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism, Royal Academy, London W1 (020 7300 8000) 7 July to 23 September