Opening of a major exhibition on Impressionism at the MFAH on Sunday

“Imparable Impressionism” on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Photo: Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts Houston / Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts Houston

How Gary Tinterow, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, intercepted “Incomparable Impressionism from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston”, an unprecedented and years-long exhibition in preparation for the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia?

All it took was a phone call. Oh, and about $ 800,000.

What looks like the plot of a remake of “Ocean’s 11” is actually pure fluke. Tinterow was in the right place (uh, state) at the right time.

The original plan was for “Imparable Impressionism” to be on display at the National Gallery of Victoria for four months in early 2021. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Director Matthew Teitelbaum had been working on the logistics of the transpacific exhibition since 2017. Then the pandemic success, and the show’s overseas tour was reduced to 25% of its original airing.

It was then that Teitelbaum’s phone rang. Gary Tinterow – a great colleague, we’ve been in the trenches together for many years – asked, ‘Would you consider sending the exhibit to Houston before it returns to Boston? “”

“The incomparable impressionism of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston”

When:Open on Sunday; From Wednesday to Sunday, until March 27, 2022

Or: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Audrey Jones Beck Building, 5601 Main

Details: Admission from $ 12; 713-639-7300;

Tinterow remembers his pitch well. “I said, ‘We’re open. We are not closed and there are direct flights from Melbourne to Houston.

Six months and an emergency fundraiser on behalf of the MFAH trustees later, “Unparalleled Impressionism” was redirected to Texas. The collection of 100 masterpieces of the French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movement opens on November 14, upstairs in the Audrey Jones Beck building. Level two gallery spaces typically house part of the museum’s permanent collection, although in this case exceptions have been made.

“It has the best light,” says MFAH European art curator Helga Aurisch, eyes shining.

Rarely seen works

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s significant collection of paintings and works on paper from the mid to late 19th century is rarely seen outside of Massachusetts. Less than half have visited the Lone Star State so far.

Landscape compositions, visible brushstrokes, precise representation of light and scenes from everyday life are the hallmarks of the movement. “Before that, nature was looked down upon,” Tinterow says of the shift from predominantly religious work to outdoor work.

After the Civil War, some Americans began to travel abroad again. When the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was founded in 1870, major summer tours of Europe were all the rage; the city’s biggest collectors began to acquire Impressionist paintings.

“Boston was the center of wealth and ambition during this time,” says Teitelbaum. “There was an active community of collectors who were very intrigued by Impressionism. They knew (Claude) Monet and painted with him. There were merchants who brought in works because they wanted to feed our market and made transactions very simple. There is real depth and importance in our collection, it is considered one of the best outside of France.

In the mid-1800s, a group of Parisian artists rebelled against the establishment. They submitted their own work and formed the Salon, arguably the largest biennial art event of the time.

Aurisch likes to call them the “new neighborhood kids”. In fact, several young leaders of Impressionism, including Théordore Rousseau, Claude Monet, Pierre-August Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Jean-Bapiste-Camille Corot, among others, were all members of the Barbizon school. There, on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest, young artists came together to paint landscapes, and a new movement was born.

Breaking traditions

This is where “Incomparable Impressionism” opens, at the Barbizon school. In total, the exhibition is organized into nine sections. The others are “Boudin, mentor de Monet”; “Aquatic surfaces: mastery and innovation; “” Impressionist still life; »« Renoir: «A fantastic and nervous improviser»; »« Pissarro: teacher and pupil; “” The impressionists and the city; “And” Monet: From Fontainebleau to Giverny “.

The artists broke with the then classic scenes of goddesses, religious temples and rivers. They have been replaced by naturalistic landscapes and relatively modern representations of city life. Sometimes nymphs and other mythical creatures were used as substitutes to inject a moral message into Impressionism.

“Boudin, mentor de Monet” explores the long-standing friendship between Eugène Boudin and Monet, who, at age 18, entered Boudin’s art supply store.

“Poor Boudin. He is eternally linked to Monet, ”says Tinterow. “He may have been forgotten without Monet.”

Corot might not agree. He often called Boudin “king of the skies” for his famous marine painting and his renderings along the shore.

In “Aquatic Surfaces: Mastery and Innovation”, a trio of Sisley takes the change of scenery forward, from the forest of Fontainebleau to the rivers, shipyards and bridges of suburban France. Aurisch proposes that water can function as a mirror. Some fifty years earlier, “Waterworks at Marly” by Sisley (1876) would have been considered a sketch; instead, it is considered a textbook of Impressionism.

“Renoir: ‘A Fantastic, Nervous Improvisator’” is one of the largest galleries in the exhibition and awash in rusty red, the artist’s favorite shade. There, the famous “Danse à Bougival” (1883) takes center stage and a poppy-colored cap casts a romantic glow. L’Homme au bain by Gustave Caillebotte (1884) is nearby. Teitelbaum says he doesn’t travel very often; Museum of Fine Arts in Boston only recently acquired it in 2011.

“Impressionist Still Life” is a response to the collapse of the Second French Empire in 1870.

“England loved flowers and their jockeys,” says Tinterow. “It was the only open market, so the artists were all looking across the Channel to England, trying to sell art.”

Henri Fantin-Latour’s “Plate of Peaches” (1862) resembles the Dutch master through a slightly different lens – his captures the texture of a fuzzy orange peel. “(Paul) Cézanne said that fruits also like to have their portrait painted,” jokes Tinterow.

The last gallery, “Monet: De Fontainebleau à Giverny” offers a dazzling collection of 15 paintings. “Camille Monet and a Child in the Garden of Argenteiul” (1875) is particularly difficult to leave. Aurisch noted the small spots of paste everywhere. And visitors will also be tempted to take the “Route de La Cavée, Pourville” (1882).

Instead, venture to the adjacent “Unparalleled Impressionism” pop-up window for a keepsake. When the exhibition leaves on March 27, it is unlikely that the masterpieces will be seen again outside of Boston anytime soon.

Teitelbaum looks forward to their return. And will screen his phone calls until further notice.

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  • Amber Elliott

    Amber Elliott covers the arts and society for the Houston Chronicle.

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