Cézanne traveled to Paris for the first time in1861, where he met the impressionists. Up until the1880s he painted in Romantic style, inspired by lyricism and the loose brushstrokes of Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863). His painting gradually took on constructive lines, as in "Rocks at L’Estaque" (1882–85), where each element appears independently, as though the landscape were a combination of various geometric pieces. The artist became withdrawn from1886 onward, after recognizing himself as the failed painter in the novel "L’œuvre", by Émile Zola (1840–1902), his childhood friend, who appears in his painting "Paul Alexis Reading a Manuscript to Zola" (1869–70). Cézanne wanted to raise the impressionists’ principles, based on the vibration of color and light, to the level of classical art. But he went beyond this and painted objects from different points of view, anticipating the cubist precepts.
The same broad brushstrokes are used for the settings and the characters, and the movement is not only in the gestures and interaction, but in the rhythm of the brushstrokes themselves. The curves of the rocks, the billowing clouds, the vegetation and the waters seem to accompany the sinuosity of the bodies, imparting tension to the set.
She attended the studio for several years, where she participated intensely in discussions on themes such as the surpassing of fauvism by cubism, especially after poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918) presented her with a copy of his1913 book Peintres cubistes: méditations esthétiques [Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Meditations]. Nevertheless, Laurencin never assimilated the cubist spirit; her painting is light and fluid. A recognized illustrator, she made the lithographs of the version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland published in France in1930.
"Guitarist and Two Female Figures" (1934) is exemplary of her palette of mild colors, marked by tones of pink and blue, with thin lines between each color field. The scene of the outdoor musical get-together recalls a tradition of similar paintings spanning from Giorgione (c.1477–1510) to Edouard Manet (1832–1883), revealing the presence of academic themes in Laurencin’s artistic vocabulary
At fifteen, besides her work as a waitress in the bars of Montmartre, Suzanne Valadon became a model for artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919). At seventeen, upon the birth of her son, painter Maurice Utrillo (1883–1955), of unknown paternity, she began to draw. Upon seeing her drawings, Renoir introduced her as an artist to the art world. She was the first woman to show her works at the Salon des Beaux-Arts de Paris, in 1894. On that occasion, painter Edgar Degas (1834–1917) bought some of her works and encouraged her to work with printmaking, opening the doors of his own studio to her.
After an unproductive period of fifteen years, which coincided with her first marriage, Valadon became active again in 1909, focusing her efforts on painting. She kept the saturated colors of her pastel drawings, borrowing themes from Degas such as bathers and reclining nudes. In 1924, she took part in exhibitions of women artists in Paris, placing her work back into the spotlight.
From a humble origin, Léger was an apprentice at an architectural firm before studying at the École des Arts Décoratifs and Académie Julian, both in Paris. He participated in the most intense burst of cultural effervescence in Paris’s Montparnasse District, benefiting greatly from rubbing shoulders with artists such as Robert Delaunay (1885–1941) and Marc Chagall (1887–1985), as well as poet Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961), who dedicated his 1919 "Construction" to him.
Léger’s cubism was marked by strong lines that delineate the objects, filled by monochromatic areas and shadowing that lends them volume. These principles were set forth in his texts, which include "L’esthétique de la machine" [The Aesthetics of the Machine] (1923). Besides his forays into theater, in 1924 Léger produced "Ballet Mécanique" [Mechanical Ballet], the first abstract film in the history of cinema, with photography by Man Ray (1890–1976). "Compote Dish with Pears" (1923), a work in MASP’s collection, dialogues with his experiments in these artistic languages, imparting a dynamic, geometric treatment to commonplace themes, blending industrial aesthetics and colors with daily life. The thick outlines and the areas of uniform and shadowed colors recognizably influenced the work of Brazilian painter Tarsila do Amaral (1886–1973), his student in Paris during the 1920s.
In 1909, he met Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957), an influence that led him to dedicate himself exclusively to sculpture until 1914, when he returned to painting. Modigliani was an alcoholic, living in poverty and dying of tuberculous meningitis at 36. In the context of the School of Paris, he developed a style that refers to cubism, with figures that tend toward geometric stylization, as in the elongated faces of African masks.
His human figures are also charged with a melancholy that recalls the Italian Madonnas of the Renaissance. His portraits and nudes are painted on nearly monochromatic neutral backgrounds, though marked by brushstrokes. The necks are stretched; the faces are elliptical, with delicate lines. The six paintings in MASP’s collection, all made between 1915 and 1919, were acquired by the museum between 1950 and 1952. The works in the exhibition include "Portrait of Leopold Zborowski" (1916–19), a Polish poet who moved to Paris and later became a friend of Modigliani and other artists, also working as their art dealer.
After attending a fine arts academy in Barcelona, Picasso moved to Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. His studio on Rue Ravignan soon became a meeting point for artists and intellectuals. Due to his interest in African masks and ancient Greek sculpture, and to the influence of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), he began to paint objects as they are seen from various sides, thus imparting movement to them. The use of geometry to structure the image and to guide the gaze made his work a milestone for 20th-century art.
MASP’s collection includes four works by Picasso, the three featured in this exhibition being from the beginning of his career. In "La Toilette" (Fernande) (1906), the artist revisits the academic theme of a girl taking a bath assisted by a servant. The model he used for this painting was his lover, a practice he was to repeat throughout his life. "Portrait of Suzanne Bloch" (1904), from his Blue Period, uses the color blue exclusively to unify all the points on the canvas—an idea that gained a new character with cubism.
Paul Gauguin is an example of an artist who looks at the Others as “exotic”, based on the European culture. He spent part of his childhood in Peru, his mother’s country of birth, and joined the French merchant marine at seventeen. He traveled widely throughout his life, passing through various countries including Panama, Egypt and Tahiti, in French Polynesia. In France, he studied ceramics, thereby acquiring a knack for simplifying and stylizing shapes. Although he had many photographs from his travels, he painted from memory, lending his works a certain idealized look. His "Tahiti" canvases are his best known.
The position of his body and the side-view perspective could be references to the reliefs found at Egypt’s Abydos Temple, images of which circulated in France during the1880s. For its part, "Self-Portrait—Close to Golgotha" (1896) shows a mystical Gauguin in uncommon lighting and haunted by faces half-concealed in the rocks in the background.
Vincent van Gogh
After studying art for two years in Paris, Van Gogh moved to Arles, in the south of France, in 1888, where he began a series of works with splendid lighting and vibrant colors. In this period, he suffered from psychological disturbances, being committed at times to asylums, and finally taking his own life in 1890. All of this is documented in letters, especially those addressed to Theo van Gogh (1857–1891), the artist’s brother and art dealer.
In "Couple Walking at Twilight" (1889–90) and The Stone Bench in the Asylum at Saint-Remy (1889), the twisted trees and brushstrokes that change direction energize the scene, in which the sky, plants and people seem to be moving within a strange atmosphere, as though they were alive within the thick mass of paint.
From the age of eighteen onward, Vuillard attended studios of artists. He was a friend of Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), with whom he participated, in 1891, in the first show of Les Nabis, a group that rejected both academic tradition as well as the impressionist experiments. Les Nabis artists were influenced by the bold colors and patterns of Japanese prints.
The scene is pervaded by tones of green, ocher and grayish lilac, but the focus is on the printed dress. In this way, Vuillard created an atmosphere inhabited not by identities (the faces lack detail), but rather by an overall appearance formed by the colorful blotches and motifs of the clothing, the dress and the wall. Although more realist,"Princess Bibesco" (c.1920) and "Yvonne Printemps and Sacha Guitry" (c.1917) maintain the depiction of Parisian customs in indoor settings.
In 1859, Monet met Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) and Edouard Manet (1832–1883), his great reference. Together with them, he mounted an exhibition in 1874 which gave rise to the term “impressionist,” first used in a negative critique of his work "Impression, Sunrise" (1872).
MASP’s two works by Monet were painted in Giverny, where the artist lived from 1883 onward. "Canoe on the Epte" (c.1890) evinces his interest in aquatic surfaces. The closeness of the water, which takes up the entire lower part of the canvas, indicates that Monet sought to depict the reflection of the plants on the surface while also conveying the river’s depth.
During his art training, Degas learned about the work of Ingres (1780–1867), an inspiration that led him to work especially with depictions of women, bathers and dancers. In 1862, while copying a painting by Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) at the Louvre, in Paris, Degas met Edouard Manet (1832–1883), who introduced him to the group of impressionist painters. Even though Degas organized all the group’s exhibitions, from the inaugural show in 1874 to the last one in 1886, certain impressionist premises, such as painting under the open sky with natural lighting are not present in his production.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Toulouse-Lautrec moved to Paris in 1882. He set up a studio where he could make covers and illustrations for periodicals such as Le Mirliton, La Revue Blanche and L’Escarmouche, which transformed him into a pioneer of the graphic arts during and after the Belle Époque, when France was the cultural model of the West.
Besides the impressionists, whom he admired, he was also influenced by Japanese printmaking. He was moreover close to Les Nabis (“the prophets” in Hebrew)—artists who preferred to portray the habits of the Parisian bourgeois rather than to capture of sensations of natural lighting. This is why he painted in dark places, where he had control of the effects of light on the colors and shapes. The Parisian underworld was his stage. He had previously painted bucolic themes using thinner paints, as in "The Dog (Sketch of Touc?)" (c.1880).
Alcoholism resulted in his hospitalization in 1899 and his definitive departure from Paris. "Portrait of Octave Raquin" (1901) and "18th-Century Admiral" (1901) are from this phase, when he applied the paint in thick, large masses of color, without outlines, and obliterating all traces of the underlying canvas.
Manet played an essential role in the passage of academic art to modern art. As a shaker and mover in the art scene in the second half of the 19th century in Paris, he not only energized the debates among artists in the Guerbois and Nouvelle Athènes cafés, but also discussed ideas with writers and poets such as Émile Zola (1840–1902) and Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867).
When this painting was shown at Fondation Pierre Gianadda, in Switzerland, in 1987, the cruel destiny of Elisabeth, the girl in blue, was revealed. While visiting the show, one of her nephews recognized her and wrote to MASP saying that she had died in 1944 on a train on the way to the Auschwitz concentration camp, at the age of 69.
Despite the art training he received at Académie Suisse, in Paris, it was with the Republican newspapers La caricature and Le Charivari, in the1830s, that Daumier gained renown with his satiric drawings about politics and customs. His work coincides with the radical change of taste ushered in by the social transformations in France, resulting from the strengthening of the bourgeoisie and of the press as a medium for the dissemination of images and information. In1860, he quit working for the newspapers to dedicate himself to painting. Daumier contributed greatly to the discussion about realist art, and took many of his painting themes, from literature.
"Two Heads" (1858–62) was featured in a show of 98 works by Daumier, organized in1878 by writer Victor Hugo (1802–1885) to help the artist in a period of financial difficulty. The painting seems to have been a fragment, part of a dramatic scene that lies outside the canvas. The two characters are looking toward the right corner, announcing an action or third element of which we see only a small splotch. Just one of the figures’ faces is visible, with an expression enhanced by quick, incisive brushstrokes, while the other is seen only in profile.
Courbet was the leading proponent of the realism in 19th-century French painting. He painted things as he saw them: social themes, work in the countryside, raw, nonidealized portraits. He repudiated classicist painting, which sought to legitimize the official institutions through the aesthetic models of antiquity. He also rejected the dramatic imagery of Romanticism, which reflected the bourgeois aspirations and lifestyle. Courbet actively participated in the Revolution of1848 in France, in the context of the Springtime of the Peoples, a series of rebellions against the economic crises and the authoritarian regimes in Europe. From then on, his paintings reflected his persistent stance against the ideology of the salons and official art, culminating in an1858 exhibition entitled Pavillon du Réalisme, featuring the artist’s rejected works.
Two of the paintings shown, "Juliette Courbet" (1873–1874) and "Zélie Courbet" (1847), portraits of the painter’s sisters, have the artist’s typical dark surfaces, with a predominance of grays and sepias together with a few colored details to highlight elements in the background. Although painted nearly thirty years apart, they possess the same informal and affective expression, without the traditional idealization of female beauty.
The horizontal division is the axis for a mirroring both in terms of color and composition: the green field slopes down to the right while the blue line of the faraway hills slopes upward at the same angle. The tree at the center connects the two planes, while the working peasant girl represents labor as a constitutive element of this landscape.
After his return to Paris he was appointed as an official artist and headed up one of the most important studios at the Acadèmie de Beaux-Arts, where he competed with Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863). His portraits were inspired by ornaments and mythological themes. Ingres lengthened and distorted the bodies to accentuate the expressions.
"Blessing Christ" (1834) and "Virgin with Blue Veil" (1827) refer to Christian iconography. Christ’s upraised hands recall his gesture in paintings from early Christian iconography in which he is depicted teaching the Lord’s Prayer. Mary’s hands are held together in accordance with medieval tradition, representing submission.
This is the case of "Angelica Chained" (1859), with her unlikely proportions and bloated body, especially her neck. The scene refers to the epic poem Orlando Furioso (1516), in which Angelica is saved from the sea monster to which she was offered as a sacrifice. The monster is blinded by the light of the magical shield of the pagan knight Ruggiero, with whom Angelica falls in love.
Fragonard was a student of Chardin (1699–1779), who inspired him especially to paint scenes of everyday life. Even though he participated in various art salons, he did not manage to be accepted as an official artist. Because his portraits were very colorful and intensely dynamic, he became known for attending to every demand of his clients.
His themes were decorative and informal: couples in love,domestic scenes and children, a sort of painting which, decades later, became common among the Romantics. After the French Revolution (1789), Fragonard quit his work at the Asembleé Nationale to flee from the political climate in Paris. MASP’s two works date from before that time.
In the central, well-lit part of the scene a young lady plays with two dogs to entertain the children. One of the dogs is wearing a red mantle while holding a corn stalk in its paws, while the other is wearing a wide-brimmed black hat, as though ridiculing the ostentatious habits of the aristocracy, against which France was to rise some years later.
Chardin was one of the great names of the French baroque movement, characterized by dramatic themes and ostentation that illustrated the power of the absolute monarchy. In 1728, he earned the title of still-life painter at the Académie Royale de Paris. With time, the artist began to produce genre paintings, made for the houses of the nobility and the bourgeois—portraits, domestic scenes, children or couples in love.
He was then accepted as a painter of historic themes at the Académie Royale de Paris. Nattier was one of the greatest portrait artists of his generation, characterized by decorative exaggeration and the renewal of the image of the woman, in light of her growing importance in 18th century French intellectual and cultural life.
His portraits reiterate the power of the nobility over the plebeians through symbolism and the ostentation of wealth, evidenced by fabrics such as colorful satin and velvet, which were very expensive and demarcated social roles. MASP’s paintings bring together four of the daughters of King Louis XV.
Each one of them is associated to one of the four elements, identified by the iconography of the globe, the stove, the peacock and the amphora. The eldest, Louise-Elisabeth, is associated with the earth; Anne-Henriette, with fire; Marie-Adélaïde, with air; Marie-Louise-Thérèse-Victoire, with water. The works decorated a room at the Palace of Versailles.
"Art from France: from Delacroix to Cézanne"
17.7 to 25.10.2015
Curatorial: Adriano Pedrosa, Eugênia Gorini Esmeraldo, Fernando Oliva and Tomás Toledo