Claude Monet, Poplars on the Epte, 1891. Oil on canvas, 81.8 x 81.3cm. © National Gallery of Scotland
Exhibition notice: Impressionism and Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland, July 19 – October 12 2008.
The National Gallery of Scotland’s big summer show for 2008 is Impressionism and Scotland, with over 100 paintings, pastels and watercolours exploring the Scottish taste for Impressionism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Highlights include Renoir’s The Bay of Naples (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), the first Impressionist painting to be bought by a Scot; Degas’s L’Absinthe (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), which was ‘hissed’ when it came up for auction in the early 1890s, due to its ‘depraved’ subject-matter; and Sir John Lavery’s The Tennis Party (Aberdeen Art Gallery), a rare example of Scottish modern life painting.
Edgar Degas, Dans un cafe: L'Absinthe,1875-6. Musee d’Orsay, Paris
Other major Impressionist works in the show are on loan from private and public collections in the UK, Germany, the USA and Australia. Big names in the show include Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, Manet, Matisse, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh, as well as the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists.
In the late nineteenth century Scotland was a powerful industrial nation and Glasgow was second city of the British Empire. A rising generation of rich industrialist and mercantile collectors developed a taste for avant-garde European art, many of them acquiring works which are now of international importance.
The exhibition also examines the influence of Impressionism upon Scottish painters. For example, in Aberdeen, collectors initially forged links between the artists of the Hague School – the so-called Dutch ‘Impressionists’ – and Scots artists such as George Reid and William McTaggart.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Café La Mie,1891. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Many Scots collectors also acquired the work of Camille Corot and the artists of the Barbizon School; and in Glasgow – under the influence of the art dealer Alexander Reid – they were among the first to invest in the work of Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir and Whistler. Pictures acquired by such collectors were frequently lent to public exhibitions and were seen by contemporary Scottish artists.
Exposed to these works in the 1880s and 1890s, artists of the ‘Glasgow School’, such as John Lavery, James Guthrie and E.A. Walton, began to emulate their European contemporaries. They painted in the open air, depicting both rural and modern-life subjects, but they avoided the controversial café scenes of Manet and Degas.
They were commonly referred to by critics, sometimes pejoratively, as ‘Impressionists’, even though their essentially tonal style of painting was quite different from the ‘scientific’ Impressionism of Monet and his contemporaries.
Samuel John Peploe, The Black Bottle, c.1905. Oil on canvas, 50.8 x 61cm. © Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
In the early twentieth century a new generation of artists emerged in Scotland – S.J. Peploe, J.D. Fergusson, Leslie Hunter and F.C.B. Cadell, later known as the Scottish Colourists. These artists all travelled to France and their early interest in Manet and Impressionism was soon superseded by a fascination with the decorative expressionism of Matisse and the ‘Fauves’.
After the First World War Scottish collectors learned to appreciate the Colourists’ brilliant colour and expressive handling and, partly through their influence, turned to Post-Impressionism, acquiring works by Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Matisse.
Image above - Sir John Lavery, The Tennis Party, 1885. Oil on Canvas, 77 x 183.5 cms. © Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums
This show highlights parallels between the work of Dutch, French and Scottish artists, whose paintings will be hung side-by-side: Corot and Walton; Bastien-Lepage and Guthrie; Degas and Crawhall; Manet and Fergusson; Matisse and Hunter.
There will also be an Audioguide available for hire and a separate VI audioguide for the visually impaired, including descriptive tour and orientation.
Following its run in Edinburgh, a condensed version of Impressionism and Scotland will be shown at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, from 31 October 2008 to 1 February 2009.