Blockbuster Impressionist show for Louvre Abu Dhabi

You certainly couldn’t say that Louvre Abu Dhabi isn’t getting value (in artistic terms, at least) from its relationship with Agence France Muséums – its autumn show is sure to be a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, “one of the most significant Impressionist exhibitions ever to be held outside France”.

Impressionism: Pathways to Modernity opens 12 October and features 150 or so paintings from the stunning collection of the Musée d’Orsay, shown with etchings, costumes, film and photography to show how important Impressionism was to the development of art in the 20th century.

This isn’t exactly revolutionary territory for art curation, of course, but that doesn’t downplay the significance of this show. At the very least there will be chance to see some of Impressionism’s greatest hits – always a pleasure, always with something new to find in the works – though it probably won’t include the painting that gave the movement its name, Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, exhibited at the inaugural 1874 exhibition of the group of artists that called themselves the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc.

In truth there wasn’t much sculpture or printmaking among the 160-plus works by 30 artists at that first show; and in terms of style and technique the exhibitors didn’t really have much in common, other than their desire for independence from the annual Salon. That was run by the Académie des Beaux Arts as a marker of quality and refinement, but it operated with rigidly conservative values and exercised a virtual monopoly on official patronage as well as a tight grip on public taste.

The Anonymous Society artists weren’t a particular self-identifying school of art, unlike say Cubists a few years later or even the Abstract Impressionists in the late 40s. But they did share enough characteristics to appear as a defined group to critics and observers, and by the time of their third exhibition (1877) they had adopted the term ‘Impressionists’ for themselves.

Their art was (and is) characterised by its essential modernity, embodied in the depiction of modern life rather than the grand classical tableau of the typical Salon painting: subjects that included movement rather than static, stagey settings: a desire to capture the moment, especially in terms of the effects of colour and light, which often meant fast, plein air painting with unblended brushstrokes of colour (the eye can do the combining, it doesn’t have to done for us on the painting) and elements that might lack some detail (ditto).

That opened up the options for art. If the viewer’s contribution is as important as the artist’s, just about anything goes: subjects didn’t have to be classical or religious, novel techniques could be tried, even non-conventional media. As a result, Impressionism is a precursor of many painting styles (arguably of every style that followed it).

We don’t yet know what paintings will be on show at the Louvre, but the preliminary info suggests we’ll get a number of the big hitters – Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne – plus some of the less obvious but equally important Impressionists like Gustave Caillebotte and Berthe Morisot.

Our only regret about this show is that it might lack some context from the environment and the then-recent past. A few of those grim mainstream Salon paintings, with their coyly prurient breasts, over-muscled babies and uncomfortably posed battles, might show what we’re missing: and while the Impressionists didn’t go out of their way to acknowledge any predecessors, artists like Turner and maybe Delacroix were certainly playing some of the same tunes 30 years earlier.

But clearly we will get context in terms of the future, pointing at the role of Impressionism in the development of modern art, and this is obviously going to be a brilliant exhibition. It will run to 5 February 2023, which should give plenty of time for repeat visits.

In other news, less dramatic but equally significant in its own way, Louvre Abu Dhabi has unveiled two smallish but remarkable loans from Ayala Museum. The Ayala is a private museum in Metro Manila that has become the de facto centre for Filipino ethnographic and archaeological artefacts. What makes it a particularly interesting partner for the Louvre Abu Dhabi is the Ayala’s goal of establishing Filipino art and culture in the global arena via a mutual cooperation and exchanges with like-minded institutions.

So on show at Louvre Abu Dhabi for the next year will be a couple of exhibits that exemplify the cross-cultural nature of the ‘global museum’. A gold cup around a thousand years old is part of the burial ensemble for a high-status woman. Standing just over 7cm high and measuring 9.3cm in diameter, it shows a striking similarity to the Chinese gold and silverwares acquired by Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2019; that allows the galleries to demonstrate the geographical flow of trade in precious metals between Islam, China and South-East Asia.

And a Funerary mask (same dates) from Butuan summarises the universal hope for immortality when mankind is faced with death. It’s being shown alongside other artefacts from the Levant and South America that echo this shared tradition.

As the official press release puts it, “the two loans represent Louvre Abu Dhabi’s mission of celebrating the universal creativity of mankind – inviting audiences to see humanity in a new light”.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply