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The Lens of Impressionism at the Dallas Museum of Art

The Wave by Gustave Courbet, 1869

The Wave by Gustave Courbet, 1869

The Lens of Impressionism: Photography and Painting Along the Normandy Coast, 1850-1874
Dallas Museum of Art
February 21 to May 23, 2010

The Lens of Impressionism: Photography and Painting Along the Normandy Coast, 1850-1874 at the Dallas Museum of Art is a beautifully arranged exhibit with paintings by Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet and Claude Monet, and photographs by Gustave Le Gray and Henri Le Secq, among others. The exhibit, which focuses on works of the French coast, juxtaposes the birth of photography with the ever evolving art of painting. Lens of Impressionism is on display through May 23, 2010.

The 19th century marked a vast change in art. Paintings of the era started out in the Neo-classical (1750-1830) style which soon morphed to Realism (1830-1870) and then onto Impressionism (1863-1890). At the same time photography, invented in 1825, started out blurry and unfocused and since then has greatly improved to the sharp images of today.

The Lens of Impressionism is a vacation. Parisians escaped from city life to visit the picturesque Normandy coast and artists and photographers followed along. Artists painted landscapes, seascapes, beach scenes, tourist hotels and shipping docks. Photographers captured the same subjects but with a less discerning eye. Where an artist would paint a beautiful coast line with a limited view, a photographer would capture the same view with everything in site including homes, businesses, streets and other elements of the time.

Photography from this time has given a valuable behind the scenes look at what the Normandy coast really looked like sans artistic license. Artists may have painted ideal beach scenes, but photographers have given us a peek behind the curtain1.

The Lens of Impressionism exhibits many works from near and far, including works from the Kimbell Art Museum and the Amon Carter Museum. The Kimbell has loaned Monet’s La Pointe de la Heve at Low Tide, 1865. The Amon Carter has loaned a beautiful display of early photography including a view camera. The exhibit is a grand display of paintings and photographs. Each room dramatically changes with different lighting and color, the only constant is the creaking sound of the hardwood floor. A more comfortable setting could not be imagined.

Impressionism? Really?

Now, for what I really think.

Yes, this is a beautiful exhibit and it is worth the extra admission fee to see, but I feel the use of impressionism in the title is misleading.

I understand that more people will line up to see an exhibit of impressionist art and that this exhibit does have works in it by impressionist masters like Monet and Degas. But impressionism did not really come along until Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Sisley organized the Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers to exhibit their works in 1873.

I mention this because viewers should not go expecting to see room after room filled with bright, vibrant impressionist works they have grown to love. Instead viewers will see pre-impressionist works that are earthy and dark with a touch more realism.

The Lens of Impressionism has a lot of great works to see and I really hope you enjoy the exhibit.

SmARTphone Tours

I love technology and the new SmARTphone Tour with The Lens of Impressionism and the Reeves Collection sounds like great fun. I have not had the chance to try it yet.

The smARTphone tour provides added information about artists and their works via WiFi enabled mobile devices or loaned iPod Touches available free from the DMA’s Visitor Services Desk. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

No. 12, Etretat, the Manneporte by Louis-Alphonse Davanne

No. 12, Etretat, the Manneporte by Louis-Alphonse Davanne

The Wave by Gustave Courbet, 1869

The Wave by Gustave Courbet, 1869

1 “[Pay no attention to that man] behind the curtain” refers to the quote from the movie The Wizard of Oz, 1939.

About M. C. Roman

M. C. Roman, owner and managing editor of Dallas Art News, is a painter, printmaker and photographer. He is a graduate of Southern Methodist University. M. C.'s art can be viewed at michaelroman.com. Social media friends can find M. C. on Facebook at facebook.com/mcroman.

One response to “The Lens of Impressionism at the Dallas Museum of Art”

  1. It is interesting how often ‘Impressionism’ is often used in the most tenuous of contexts to draw the crowds, and by otherwise reputable institutions and people. Despite, this it sounds like an interesting exhibition nonetheless. There are a number of ‘impressionist’ related events in the US now – I wish I could get over there and see them all.

    For those readers of your site who are venturing into France this summer, you might be interested in is the international Summer Impressionist Festival this year in Normandy – you can see more details on my website: Monet, Giverny & Normandy.