Turner to Cézanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
June 25 through September 20, 2009
Post by Cindy Andrew
A French town steeped in snow, cavalrymen playing a game of cards in a tavern and a young woman garbed in brilliant blue staring at me as though she knew me — all are images swirling in my head as I leave Turner to Cézanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection. The exhibition, which is currently at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, features 47 paintings from the romanticism, impressionism and post-impressionism eras. In addition to Turner and Cézanne, other prominent nineteenth century artists are also represented. The paintings are from the collection of Gwendoline (1882-1951) and Margaret (1884-1963) Davies, the granddaughters of Welsh coal and railway baron David Davies.
The exhibition opens to eight small works by British master J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). While small in scale, the works still express Turner’s enormous appreciation and awe of nature. Turner creates imminence and movement through his use of thick painterly brushwork that leaps off of the canvass and engages the viewer. The Storm, for example, conveys the frightful moments just before the rapacious sea claims its maritime victims.
The romantic theme continues with works by Camille Corot (1796-1875), Honore Daumier (1808-1879) and Jean-François Millet (1814-1875). Corot and Millet are known for their landscapes, and fortunately, the exhibition features a few of them such as Millet’s The Gust of Wind. In this bucolic scene, a shepherd scurries to herd his flock during a violent windstorm. The shepherd is oblivious to the massive uprooted tree that the wind has hurled his way. As scores likely have before me, I left the painting wondering the fate of the hapless shepherd.
The exhibition transitions from romanticism to realism with the works of artists such as Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891). The detail in Meissonier’s Innocents and Card Sharpers (A Game of Piquet) astounds; his meticulousness gives life to his subjects. The scene depicts a group of seventeenth century cavalrymen playing cards in a tavern. The soldiers’ dress conjures images of the Three Musketeers with their large plumed hats and brightly colored tunics. Amused and seasoned card sharks sit opposite uncertain and inexperienced youths. Friends of the card sharks stand behind them. One friend casually observes the farce with his hands enfolded behind him, and another looks on while enjoying his pipe. A flask of wine and a half-empty glass sit on a bench in the foreground. This painting intrigued me; I returned to it two or three times.
The impressionists are next in the exhibition. At least one or two works from each of the major impressionist artists —Monet, Renoir, Morisot, Pissarro, Manet and Sisley— are represented. Each painting is compelling but I was particularly drawn to Edouard Manet’s (1832-1883) Effect of Snow at Petit-Montrouge. Manet painted this work during the Prussian siege of Paris in the winter of 1870. In the painting snow blankets the village of Petit-Montrouge, a suburb of Paris. The dreary gray sky is briefly interrupted by a splatter of light gray that is the town’s church steeple. The collage of black, brown and gray interspersed with vivid white expresses desolation, sadness and despair; which Manet must have felt during the Prussian siege.
I would be remiss if I did not mention La Parisienne by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). In this full-size portrait, Renoir portrays a young Parisian woman dressed in the brightest blue imaginable. The woman stands above her viewers, gazing upon us with a hint of a smile. La Parisienne is quintessential Renoir. The blue is brilliant, but not overpowering and the woman’s gaze is not judgmental, but sensual. She is an ephemeral image of the nineteenth century Parisian woman.
The exhibition culminates with only two of Cézanne’s works: Provençal Landscape and The François Zola Dam. This was the exhibition’s only flaw. I had expected to see more of Cézanne’s works, given the title of the exhibition. With that said, I still recommend taking the drive to Oklahoma City to experience the Davies sisters’ wonderful collection.