Impressionist France

Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, Edgar Degas, 1880

Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, Edgar Degas, 1880

The Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) has carved upon the lintel of its main entrance, “Dedicated to Art and Free to All”. The SLAM-mer lives up to this motto, the regular collection is always free to view and photograph and on Fridays visiting shows are also free. Last week the show, “Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet” opened. This visiting show is the creation of Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Anne and I went to go see it on Friday night, for free.

“Impressionist France” is an exhibit that marries 19th-century French impressionist paintings with contemporary photography. There are works of Monet and Pissarro aplenty among the show’s 125 paintings and photos, but this show is less about art for art’s sake than it is about the world that created these works. The artworks are organized by place, the streets of Paris, rural France, the mountains or the sea, to name a few. The art is also used to evoke a sense of time. Centering on the last third of the 19th-century, France is first reeling from defeat in the disastrous Franco-Prussian war, but France recovers and most of the exhibit is set in the period of expansionist growth that follows. Medieval Paris is rebuilt. Railroads open the countryside, seashore and the mountains as tourist destinations. All of this growth is captured on both canvas and film.

“Impressionist France” runs through the 4th of July. Photography wasn’t allowed in this visiting exhibit, so the next best thing is the above photo of Degas’ “Little Dancer” from the regular collection. “Little Dancer” is one of the most beloved pieces in the museum’s collection, so much so that SLAM has adopter her as part of their ad campaign. Here is the museums write-up on her:

Edgar Degas has meticulously sculpted the form of the teenage ballet dancer Marie van Goethem with chin raised and eyes half closed. The naturalism is enhanced by the artist’s use of real materials including horsehair, a muslin dress and a satin bow. Degas’ sculptures generally remained private and this work, displayed at the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881, was the only sculpture that he showed during his lifetime. Degas’ realistic treatment caused the girl’s features to be caricatured at the time as “monkey-like”.

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