From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism at the Royal Academy

The Clark Art Institute was always on my list of places to visit the few times I spent time at a writing retreat in Western Massachusetts, but I’ve never quite managed to make the trip just yet.  Sometimes good intentions always seem to fail to turn into actions.  So it was not surprise when I realised that without quick action I would miss the exhibition of a significant portion of the Clark collection of French Impressionists at the Royal Academy.  I got in just under the wire, as the show closed yesterday.

The Clark behind the collection was one of the heirs to the Singer sewing machine fortune, and in common with many other wealthy American industrialists of the the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he showed his philanthropic credentials by collecting European art and then bestowing it on the Nation.  Apparently this exhibition coincides with some major refurbishment of the Art Institute building in Williamstown.  I like the idea that the works which might otherwise have been in storage have otherwise been sent out on the road to earn their keep.

One of the big surprises of this show was how extraordinarily busy it was.  Even mid morning on an ordinary Thursday we do seem to love an Impressionist exhibition.  The second surprise, at least for me, was how few of the works on show didn’t make my teeth ache with their saccharine sweetness.

From the selection on display, it would seem that Clark collected for figurative pieces that could decorate their home in a manner that would challenge neither their children nor their staff.  They liked their girls pink cheeked rather dim witted, and preferably with puppies or kittens.  It was a relief to see the edgier non pastel coloured works by Manet and Toulouse Lautrec.  I also discovered a new artist of whom I’d not previously heard: Boldini, and there were two works of great detail which enjoyed studying, Crossing the Street and Young Woman Crocheting.

One of the more interesting features of the show were the facsimiles of some of the invoices for individual works from dealers in Paris, London and New York.  The brevity of the descriptions were almost in inverse proportion to the value of the paintings being bought and sold.

So now I’m wondering if they kept all the best works in the collection at home.

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