In Pittsburgh, we have no need to travel to Chicago, New York, or Paris to experience great examples of that most-loved of visual art forms, Impressionism. An excellent collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist work can be found here at Carnegie Museum of Art. Starting this Saturday, May 12, you will be able to see our collection, supplemented by a few loans, in the exhibition Impressionism in a New Light: From Monet to Stieglitz.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the many donors who, over the years, have contributed to these remarkable holdings; most especially, we owe thanks to Sarah Mellon Scaife. While one might imagine that our Impressionist collection resulted from following Andrew Carnegie’s directive to buy out of the Carnegie International exhibitions, inaugurated in 1896, only a few French Impressionist works were acquired from those first exhibitions. In contrast, between 1962 and 1973, Mrs. Scaife purchased for the museum 28 major paintings and two significant pastels by the Parisian artists. Working with Leon Arkus through his years as assistant and associate director and then director of the museum, she built the collection. I find it amazing that relatively recently these works were on the market and could be bought in such quantity.
Fortunately for us, Mrs. Scaife’s taste was, within certain bounds, adventurous. She acquired classical Impressionist works by Monet, for example, but she also purchased Degas’s The Bath, an unconventional work, even by Impressionist standards. It is as much drawing as painting, with broad and messy pointillist patterning that melds background and foreground, confusing space. The bather’s leg appears to be simultaneously inside and outside the tub. It is the kind of work that would seem to appeal more to contemporary artists than to lovers of Impressionism, but Mrs. Scaife bought it.
With Impressionism in a New Light, curators Amanda Zehnder and Linda Benedict-Jones pay tribute to Mrs. Scaife’s legacy and her more adventurous side by showing her very generous contributions to the collection but also by expanding the definition of the movement itself. They move beyond the idea of Impressionism as a primarily French phenomenon, encompassing exclusively painting, sculpture, drawings, and prints; instead, they show its impact in other countries and on other media, most significantly Pictorialist photography. Impressionism in a New Light thus makes clear the radical nature of the Impressionist project, its broad influence, and how it forever changed the way we see.
At CMA, we created this exhibition for the people of the Pittsburgh region. It is my hope that they will visit the museum in great numbers to see and be proud of the great art that we share. We would love to have you join us for the opening event this Saturday, an evening of art, music, and conversation in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. After that, the show is there for your enjoyment until August 26.
Until next month,