Nineteenth-century Paris has a unique place in the history of art, giving birth to two very important movements ― Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.
Many masterpieces of this era are housed at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. They include works by such illustrious artists as Monet, Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, van Gogh and Czanne.
Some such works are currently in Seoul for a special exhibition at the National Museum of Korea in a ravishing treat for art lovers here.
“Beyond Impressionism, Masterpieces from the Muse d’Orsay” features 175 artworks on loan from the Paris museum.
Running until the end of August, the exhibit is the largest in scale for both sides: For Korea, it is the largest exhibition of the Orsay collection ever to take place in the country. For the French museum, it is the largest overseas exhibition.
“Portrait of Eugène Boch” (1888) by Vincent van Gogh (Musee d’Orsay)
Just over one week into the show, it is cruising to be another “blockbuster” in the local art scene, meaning it is big, wildly popular and profitable.
“Every piece shown here has come to Korea for the first time,” said Kim Seung-ik, an associate curator of the National Museum of Korea as he guided a tour into the first room of the exhibition last week. The exhibition opened May 3.
None other than Claude Monet, the “prince of Impressionists,” and his famous “Woman with a Parasol” greet visitors at the entrance, as the show takes them on a journey to the French art scene from the late 19th century to early 20th century.
The year 1886, when Monet drew the piece, was a remarkable juncture in Impressionism.
“Woman with a Parasol Turned to the Right” (1886) by Claude Monet (Musee d’Orsay)
The movement began when Monet and other young Paris-based artists, intent on capturing a moment in time with focus on light and colors, decided to rebel against the established art critics represented by the Salon by holding their own joint exhibitions. Their first show was held in 1874 and the last and eighth in 1886.
Since 1886, Impressionists began seeking their own independent artistic styles, expressing emotions rather than simply optical impressions, with some artists delving into symbolism.
“Neo-Impressionism emerged. Paul Gauguin left the modernized city for the primitive life. Vincent van Gogh and Paul Czanne established their unique distinctive worlds of art,” Kim explained.
The exhibition presents some late Impressionist masterpieces, including Monet’s “Houses of Parliament” (1904), Edgar Degas’ “Two Dancers at Rest” (1898) and some portraits by Pierre Auguste Renoir before moving onto Neo-Impressionism.
A section is dedicated to Neo-Impressionism, presenting works by George Seurat and others who used thousands of dots ― large and small ― to form an image they want to paint. This technique is called pointillism.
The unique and distinctive styles of Gauguin, van Gogh and Czanne are highlighted in rooms that followed, although most of the paintings there are lesser known.
“Near the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century, some artists began expressing the world of dreams and the subconscious, using bold colors and flat planes. Such changes paved the way for 20th-century modern art,” the curator said, approaching the final section.
Although the artists introduced in this section are not as popular as Monet, Gauguin or van Gogh, the final section seems to be the highlight of the exhibition.
“The Snake Charmer” (1907) by Henri Rousseau (Musee d’Orsay)
Two pieces are particularly noteworthy: Odilon Redon’s “Eyes Closed” (1890) and Henri Rousseau’s “The Snake Charmer” (1907).
Kim Young-na, director of the National Museum of Korea, chose “Eyes Closed” as the most precious piece of all, while her French counterpart, Guy Cogeval of the Musee d’Orsay, chose “The Snake Charmer.”
“‘The Snake Charmer’ is one of the most precious pieces in our collection, so much so that it was not allowed to be lent out overseas so far,” Cogeval explained during a press conference on May 2. “Eyes Closed” is also rarely shown overseas.
In between paintings, the exhibition presents sculptures, drawings, photographs and artworks of 19th-century Paris, expanding the spectrum of the show.
They are intended to offer a glimpse into the making of a modern Paris as we know it now, and the Parisian life, because art in this era either portrayed or tried to avoid ― either way was influenced by ― the various faces of the city.
It is the fourth time that the Musee d’Osay has lent its collection out to Korea.
In 2000, more than 400,000 Koreans flocked to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art to view Millet’s “The Gleaners” from just a few steps away. Displaying 35 paintings and 35 other artworks on loan from the French museum, the art event was recorded as the country’s first blockbuster exhibition.
Two more Orsay exhibitions came in 2007 and 2011, each renewing records in the show’s scale and the number of visitors.
The exhibition runs through Aug. 31. Tickets are 8,000 won for children, 10,000 won for students and 12,000 won for adults. For more information, visit www.orsay2014.co.kr or call (02) 325-1077.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org