Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A Visit to the Art Institute of Chicago

Today, I'll begin a little mini tour of my time at the wonderful Art Institute of Chicago while in Illinois last week for the spring board meeting of the Society of Animal Artists. As a result of rainy and not so conducive to outdoor activities weather, I was able to spend several afternoons walking the galleries to see some of my favorite paintings by some of my favorite painters. 

One of the visits was spent with a fellow artist and board member and we pretty much focused on the Impressionists. 

As we walked up the marble staircase in the main hall, a throng was visible through the glass doors at the top of the landing. Just over the heads of the many visitors, I could see one of the works that I had anticipated drooling over . . . the recently cleaned, magnificent work by Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day. Having just come back out on display after several months of restoration, I actually found myself mesmerized, standing before it, in total awe. I've admired Caillebotte's work for years and had only seen this work reproduced in books before so to be able to stand before it, soak it in, feel the chill of the drizzle and become lost in the atmosphere created by this master was truly a moment to savor. There is a short video on the museum's web site, linked here, that shows some of the painstaking restoration and varnish removal techniques used by the conservator to bring the work back to life with added nuance and recovery of some of the lost coloration. What a true joy to have been able to see it in person.

Hanging in the same room were many other magnificent representations of the finest of the Impressionist painters, but I will focus on just several of those that really spoke to me. First off, this wonderful work by Berthe Morisot, Woman at Her Toilette. Even though I am not a painter, I can be fascinated by the mark of a master painter in depicting the nuances of white without really using much white paint. The delicate toning and shading in this work, though subtle and soft, really reached out and grabbed my attention. Little detail, lots of soft and lost edges as in many of the Impressionist works, yet very powerful in execution. Morisot has always been an artist, to my mind, that has gotten lost in the lists of the more commonly noted Impressionist painters, but certainly holds her weight in my estimation with the likes of Degas and Monet and the rest.

And speaking of Monet, the next work that I spent time with, Saint-Lazare Station, by the master, Claude Monet, was yet another work that I was familiar with, through my affinity for trains and train travel, yet had never seen it up close and in person. You can't beat seeing a master work like this in person for the richness of the colors and the intensity of the brush work, and though it was a relatively small work in comparison to some of the other works hanging in that same gallery, it surely held its own with the vivid value shifts and expressive, suggested movement.

Before leaving that main gallery filled with master work after master work, I had to bask in the glow of Renoir's The Canoeist's Luncheon. And once again, seeing the work in reality, I was taken with it's brightness and crisp juxtaposing of warm and cool tints.

In an adjoining gallery, the parade of Impressionist works continued with a series of Monet's glittering paintings of  London's Waterloo Bridge showing various times of day and in different lighting; epitomizing the thrust of the Impressionist era, it's spotlight on light and what it does to color in nature really sung out. One of that series, depicted below, shimmered in hues of lavender and peach and pink and blue through splotchy dabs of paint which danced across the surface of the canvas as shown in the detail further below. Standing off, the image materialized out of the intense dabs of color but on closer inspection, the rapidity of the brush work, dabbing here and there with flourish, certainly distinguished it as one of the master works of the plein air Impressionist period.

More to come, but for now, I'll just let you marvel at these few glorious works. If you ever get to Chicago, a must visit . . . The Art Institute of Chicago.

1 comment:

alan woollett said...

Great stuff Terry...I too was mesmerised by this place on a visit several years much blockbuster art under one roof!!