Thursday, January 22, 2009

Winter Trip - All About Art

As soon as I read about Phillips Collection in DC, I knew I had to go there, I couldn't pass the opportunity to see "the finest collection of Impressionist works". Impressionists and European artists close to their generation always held a special place in my heart. The first book on art I have ever read was about August Renoir, the first show I waited two hours in line to get in featured the works of Eduard Manet. I saw them in Saint Petersburg when the large exhibition of their work were brought to Russia for the first time, visiting Claude Monet's "Giverny" exhibition in Phoenix was the way of celebrating my 3oth birthday. Like with books I feel compelled to return to their work again and again and every time they reveal something new to me.

National Gallery has beautiful selection of impressionist/post impressionist works, and though I paid homage to their halls, the Gallery had too many attractions waiting that prevented me from lingering there. But, I cannot resist to mention two of the works that stood out to me. One is Claude Monet's "The Houses of Parlament", 1903 and the other - Henry Matisse's "Open Window", 1905 . The first one is my old dear acquaintance that never fails to attract my attention, and the later one - besides being "an icon of early modernism", interests me in connection with Phillips collection.

Claude Monet, The Houses of Parlament, Sunset, 1903

Henry Matisse, Open Window, Collioure, 1905

Before talking about things I saw there I want to say that the history of Plillips collection is close to a fairy tale. It is one of the rear cases when the passion and financial means accompanied each other, resulting in a marvelous collection of art works we enjoy today. Duncan Phillips, the founder of it, was interested in art from his early years. While studying in Yale he asked to include the course of the art history in the programme and thus created a whole new subject. He and his wife founded their collection at the dawn of the 20th century and spent their lives travelling and adding to it. They both referred to the experience of seeing art art as "joy-giving," and "life-enhancing" and the resulting collection is certainly reflects their attitude. The gallery gathered together works of established artists and those who were just coming onto the art scene. One of the crowning jewel of the collection is "The Luncheon of the Boating Party" by Renoir which was bought for $ 125.000 in 1923. (It is a pity that the records of the prices and the current values of the paintings are not available to public.) He was extremely proud of this acquisition. "Its fame is tremendous and people will travel thousands of miles to our house to see it...Such a picture creates a sensation wherever it goes."

I will return to my beloved Matisse though. This painting with closed window, below, was done forty three years after the one pictured above. He uses much stronger colours here, more determined brush strokes. If the first painting is luminous this one has an astonishing living force in it. I absolutely love the explosion of colours behind the glass, it reminds me of firework or looking through kaleidoscope. He once said that he felt by colour and this one is a hymn to it.

Henry Mattise, Interior with Egyptian Curtain, 1948

One more opened window, this time from Pierre Bonnard. Isn't it gorgeous? The shades of violet travel from the back of the chair in the lower right corner towards the sky, diagonal position of the window shatter brings a viewer back inside the room. The way the window is positioned towards the left side of the painting creates an interesting angle, as if somebody just entered the room and taking in a sleeping woman,a tiny black cat, a beautiful view. The open window was one of Bonnard's favourite themes, it gave him an opportunity to combine landscape and light with domestic interiors. It would be interesting to put together an exhibition that will show the open window motif done by different artists, it can be something truly fascinating. A room filled with paintings depicting this theme and one real opened window.

Pierre Bonnard, The Open Window,, 1921

The last painting I am mentioning because it was a cause of my greatest surprise there. I haven't expected anything like that from this particular artist. The painting came to the Phillips collection as a gift, so it cannot stand as a testimonial of the founder's uncanny ability to detect brilliance, but it is there and it is the only presentation of this author. And, no, I am not going to tell you who it is.


Anonymous said...

To me, the last painting looks like something Arthur Dove might've done ... but I don't recall ever seeing it before -- how big is it?

C&C said...

It isn't big,about 60cmX40cm.

Here are more clues:

It is an American artist, who was born in 1912 and died in 1956. The title of the painting is "Composition" and it was done between 1938 and 1941.

Anonymous said...

I figured it out ;^)

But without the artist's life dates, there's next to nothing to go on -- the painting's scale, title, approximate date, and nationality are hardly enough to suggest the later work for which this drip was well-known ... after he made a big splash in the art world, and was able to command some really jacked-up prices.

C&C said...

Well done. I should come up with a prize for that.