Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Impressionism in the Age of Industry @ the AGO

I had a wonderful visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario last week, taking in the new show "Impressionism in the Age of Industry: Monet, Pissarro, and More". You can learn more about the show by going to the AGO's website.

Claude Monet, The Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare St.-Lazare, 1877
This painting is showcased at the entrance to the show, and sets the tone. 
These Impressionist works are not about dazzling light reflected on water,
but rather about the smoke and smog of an industrial city.

Impressionism often brings to mind pastoral landscapes and scenes of the leisure class enjoying their picnics and boating excursions. But this exhibition shows the grittier side of Impressionism. The late 19th century was an age of rapid industrialization. The railroad and its iron bridges not only transformed the landscape but also changed the way people lived. Artists seized this moment of radical change, turning painting on its head.

Vincent Van Gogh, Factories at Clichy, 1887
Notice the characteristically energetic brushstrokes
used to depict the grass in the foreground, and the bold palette.
I was surprised to see this artist included as he is usually thought of
as being Post-Impressionist.

The exhibition is loosely grouped into themes: the railroad, the busy ports, factories, labourers, etc.

Camille Pissarro, La Place de Théâtre-Français et l'avenue de l'Opéra, effet de pluie, 1898
Pissarro is my favourite of the Impressionists.
The rhythms of the window patterns suggest the clip-clopping of the horses
on the pavement. The layout of Paris changed radically in the 1850's and 1860's,
when Baron Haussmann demolished many central neighbourhoods,
imposing his vision on the city's architecture.

Camille Pissarro, Le Pont Boeuildieu å Rouen, temps mouillé, 1896.
Pissarro often painted from an elevated viewpoint.
He would typically rent a hotel room that offered him this perspective
and paint the view from his window.

Camille Pissarro, Poplars, Grey Weather, Éragny, 1895

Edgar Degas, Woman Ironing,  c. 1976-1887
Skill and punishing labour were required to produce a freshly-laundered
white shirt,
 the de rigueur costume of a gentleman.

Edgar Degas, Cotton Merchants in New Orleans, 1873
Degas visited his extended family shortly after the American Civil War.
They were cotton traders and, with the abolition of slavery, their role as
intermediaries became obsolete. Their company declared bankruptcy
while Degas was still working on this painting.

James Tissot, The Shop Girl, 1885
The nature of merchandizing was also changed
in the later decades of the 19th century. Writes Kate Taylor
in the Globe and Mail, "the glittering shopping experience
was a new one, made possible by plate-glass windows, electric light
and the broad boulevards created by slum clearance."

Many of the artists in the show are the well-known names that one would expect to see, but others were new to me. And while it's the paintings that drew my eye, there are a number of prints, photographs and film clips worth a second look.

Also from the review in the Globe and Mail,
"AGO curator Caroline Shields, [is] a new hire who pitched this show to the gallery in her job interview, ... then got it open in a mere 14 months."
The exhibition continues until May 5, 2019.

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