Gay Paree is coming to the National Gallery Of Victoria, in a partnership with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts French Impressionism is a world exclusive exhibition presenting more than 100 of the very best masterworks.

Of course, the phrase gay predates our community’s use of the word and refers instead to the decadence of the Moulin Rouge, the Can-Can and the other cafes in and around Monmarte. It was Gay Paree that was after all, home to many of France’s most famous impressionist painters. Painters who will be on display at the NGV starting this month.

In the final days of instal, Dr Miranda Wallace, Senior Curator of International Exhibition Projects at NGV and Meg Wallace, Assistant Curator of International Exhibition Projects at NGV took some time out to speak with the Star Observer about what is set to be an exhibition that transcends both space and time.

French Impressionism from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“Boston MFA’s French painting collection is incredible,” Miranda enthuses. “About three of four years ago they were planning renovations in their gallery, and what that means in the museum world is a chance to get some of their work on the road and to show other audiences.

French Impressionism Curators Miranda Wallace, Meg Wallace and Ted Gott. Photo by Eugene Hyland

“They didn’t want to just send these paintings anywhere, so thankfully they chose Melbourne. We negotiated this show to be a one-off exhibition, they are going straight back to Boston after this and a lot of the works are generally always on the wall in Boston. It’s an extraordinary opportunity.”

The impressionist movement itself was born in the 19th century and developed by French artists who sought to record daily life through the effects of light and colour, it is without question one of the most recognisable movements in art history. So, the chance to see works by such artists as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir is one not to be missed.

But why NGV? Well, as Miranda explains, “there are lots of reason. Firstly, we’ve done a lot of interesting partnership shows with other museums which have been very different from the normal touring exhibition opportunities. I think our exhibition design has given us a reputation for creating an experience that is quite different from the way most museums do it in other parts of the world. Pausing for a brief moment, Miranda adds “here are very few in the world that take the experience so seriously and think about it in such a multifaceted way, using multimedia and using all the difference possibilities to create this experience of an exhibition.”

Monet, Renoir, Boudin….

French Impressionists exhibition at NGV. Photo by Sean Fennessy.

Presented thematically across 10 sections, the exhibition will open with early works by Monet and his forebears, Eugène Boudin and painters of the Barbizon School. Illustrating their profound influence on Monet’s use of the then radical method of painting outdoors en plein air (‘in the open air’) to capture changing conditions in nature.

“We have 19 pieces by Monet in this show, the earliest one is from 1863 and the latest one is from 1905. So you get this span of his personal career, but it’s also placed within this bigger story of the movement of impressionism. It might be a very recognisable movement in terms of what it looks like, beautiful landscapes, bright colours and very luminous canvases, but how it came about and who are the artists and the differences between their works is a little bit more unknown,” Miranda explains.

But for Meg, it’s not the works of Monet or Renoir that are her highlights from the exhibition, instead it is a section of the exhibition dedicated to print making endeavours undertaken by the three impressionists – Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and Mary Cassatt.

“These were intended to be these highly experimental prints of different entertainments in the city, going to the theatre or going to the museum but also natural landscapes as well,” Meg tells us. “They were made using very experimental techniques and they were meant to be published in this journal called Day And Night. When you look at them you can understand why it was given that title, it has this extreme contrast between light and darkness.

‘Bathing In The Beauty Of Impressionism’

“I’ve grown to love this section a lot because a lot of people associate impressionism with just painting, but I think it’s really fascinating to see how they applied these ideas of capturing the moment and changes in the world around them in different mediums.

“I’d say that when people here ‘French impressionism’ they expect a certain story or a certain group of artists. I think this exhibition really broadens that out.

“These are a hugely successful group of artists, but in their lifetimes, they were not who we know them to be today. I would also say that today, we have so many stresses and concerns, that this opportunity to just have some time just bathing in the beauty of impressionism is a pretty rare opportunity. I think sometimes we deserve to have a moment of visual bliss, and this exhibition is full of that.”

The exhibition will run from June 25 to October 3, 2021 at NGV International on St Kilda Road in Melbourne.

Further information is available via the NGV website.


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