Towards Impressionism: Landscape Painting from Corot to Monet Now at the Frye Museum through August 5

If the Impressionists are among your favorite artists, and if you love dreamy 19th C French landscape paintings, the Frye Museum has an exhibition for you. Fifty-one glorious landscape paintings by artists including such greats as Corot, Rousseau, Boudin, Courbet, Renoir, Sisley . . . need I go on? This is an extraordinary exhibition in which most of the works are on loan from the Mussée des Beaux Arts in Reims, France. The Frye curators have wisely added to them selections from the museum’s own collection, providing the viewer with insight about the interests of Mr. and Mrs. Frye.

The Reims Museum is widely recognized as having one of the world’s foremost collections of French landscape paintings. And remember, the 19th Century was really the birth of landscape painting. During these years, artists began moving away from their studios and out into the countryside. They began experimenting with paintings of the natural world. Before this time, the vogue was for classical depictions of imagined environments. The new plein air paintings were groundbreaking, and were important in the development of Impressionism. One of the interesting aspects of this exhibition is the way it reveals that shift.

Many of these artists travelled to the Normandy coast. I was particularly captivated by two of Boudin’s seaside paintings. One shows rough waters with numerous boats fighting the wind. The other is a beach scene of well-covered ladies and gentlement gazing out at saiboats. When you go, compare these early Boudin works with Monet’s painting of the rocks at Belle-Ile. Boudin was a generation older than Monet. The contrast of their works provide a good example of how the Impressionists moved on from the landscape painters who preceded them.

Of all the artists represented in this exhibition, Corot is primary. Again, a comparison of his many works, with those of Piassarro, Renoir, and Caillebotte, reveals the evolution to Impressionism. Gradually the classical principles of the esteemed French Academy gave way, and Modernism was born.

This is a remarkable retrospective. Enjoy noting the changing style, and pay attention to the details. You’ll see tiny people engaged in daily activities, animals grazing or working, villages, and more, all embedded in lush landscapes. I doubt that you’ll ever have an opportunity to compare so many landscape painters of the 19th C. unless you visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Reims.

Through August 5, at the Frye Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, fryemuseum.org. (Don’t forget that the parkiing lot is closed because of constuction).

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