The Birth of Impressionism Comes to the Frist Center from the Musee d’Orsay

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts will open The Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay Friday, Oct. 15, 2010, and the exhibition will remain on view in Nashville through Jan. 23, 2011, when the works in the show return to Paris.

The Frist Center is one of only three cities in the world to host this exhibition. It opened in Madrid at MAPFRE in January 2010, and is currently on view at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, where it will remain until Sept. 6, before traveling to the Frist Center.

The exhibition includes 100 paintings from the permanent collection of the Musee d’Orsay and tells the story of the development of Impressionism through the magnificent works of artists living in Paris in the mid-to-late 19th century. Among the highlights of the exhibition are important works, including 2 by Adolphe-William Bouguereau, 2 by Gustave Courbet, 6 by Edgar Degas, 15 by Edouard Manet, 6 by Claude Monet, 7 by Camille Pissarro, 11 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 5 by Alfred Sisley and James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Gray and Black, No. 1: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother (1871), the painting best known as Whistler’s Mother.

While the majority of the works in this exhibition have been seen in Madrid and San Francisco, the exhibition boasts 17 paintings from the Musee d’Orsay’s collection that will travel only to Nashville, including:

The Dance Foyer at the Opera on Rue Le Peletier by Edgar Degas (1872)
Ballet Rehearsal on the Set by Edgar Degas (1874)
Argenteuil by Claude Monet (1875)
Church at Vetheuil by Claude Monet (1879)
Emile Zola by Edouard Manet (1868)
The Woman with a White Jabot by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1880)
William Sisley by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1864)

Also included in the exhibition:

The Fifer by Edouard Manet (1866)
Family Reunion by Frederic Bazille (1867)
Birth of Venus by Adolphe-William Bouguereau (1879)
The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte (1875)
Racehorses before the Stands by Edgar Degas (1866–68)
Nude with White Dog by Gustave Courbet (1861–62)
Boy with a Cat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1868)

The Musee d’Orsay has made its works available throughout the world in several traveling exhibitions, including The Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay, while the museum undergoes renovation and refurbishing prior to the institution’s 25th anniversary in 2011.

“The Musee d’Orsay has the finest collection of French mid-to-late 19th-century art in the world,” said Frist Center Executive Director Susan H. Edwards, Ph.D. “In sharing these masterworks with the cities of Madrid, San Francisco and Nashville, the Musee d’Orsay offers an unparalleled cultural experience to people who might not have the opportunity to travel to Paris. Beyond including works of breathtaking attainment, the exhibition teaches about the complex intersections between academic art and the avant-garde, conveying the creative vitality of a particularly fertile moment in French intellectual and social development.”

“We are delighted to be one of only three cities in the world to host this truly magnificent exhibition,” said Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. “Nashville has long been known as a city of music, and because of exhibitions such as The Golden Age of Couture and The Birth of Impressionism, many are recognizing that we are becoming known as a great city for the visual arts as well. We look forward to welcoming visitors from around the region to Nashville to sample our cultural landscape and all our great city has to offer.”

The exhibition, curated by Stephane Guegan and Alice Thomine of the Musee d’Orsay, broadens the conventional view of Impressionism as a radical departure from the academic and Realist art being created at the same time. The Impressionists’ approach is considered in relation to artists across the stylistic spectrum who captured the spirit of transformation sweeping Paris in the 1870s, a force that was driven by the desire for renewal after the disastrous Franco-Prussian War and suppression of the Paris Commune, the impact of naturalism in literature and the expansion of the middle class and its leisure time.

Stylistically, the exhibition examines various cross-currents in painting. These include a consideration of the influence of Spanish artists such as Francisco de Goya and Diego Velazquez on Edouard Manet and James Abbott McNeill Whistler; the connection between the lively palettes of the Batignolles school — which included Manet, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir — and the development of the classical Impressionist style and the threads linking the Realism of the Salon to the Impressionism that was pursued by artists such as Jules Breton and Jean-Francois Millet, whose works celebrated the beauty, luminosity and dignity of the rural landscape.

At the Frist Center, the exhibition is divided into 13 themes:

The Salon of Paris examines themes of allegory and myth, classical antiquity and the links between French culture and past civilizations. Included in this section are works by William Bouguereau, Elie Delaunay, Gustave Moreau and others.
The Allure of Nature: Millet, Courbet, and the Rise of Realism looks at the appeal of rural living and the celebration of everyday life in paintings by Jules Breton, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Jean-Francois Millet and Gustave Courbet.
The Terrible Year: War and Civil War 1870–1871 examines the devastating effects of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the ways in which the war and France’s need for renewed national pride served as agents of cultural and artistic change; this section features paintings by Gustave Dore, Ernest Meissonier and Pierre Puvis du Chavannes.
Naturalism in the Salon focuses on the rise of Realism in the Salon exhibitions. Everyday subjects depicted in realistic new styles appealed to a rising middle class audience with little taste for the antique.
Manet: Between the Salon and the Avant-Garde illustrates Edouard Manet’s rejection of the overly literary and allegorical flavor of the Salon in favor of a more direct and unadorned representation of “the ordinary” in everyday life, as depicted in such works as The Fifer (1866). One of Manet’s masterpieces, Emile Zola (1868), confirms the links between Realism and the naturalistic literature of the period, while showing a wide range of influences, including Spanish and Japanese art.
The Portrait Tableau features the motif of a figure in an interior unified through harmonious orchestrations of form, value, color and space. A manifestation of the “art for art’s sake” concept, this is exemplified in by James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Gray and Black, No. 1: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother (1871).
Manet and The Batignolles School illustrates how Edouard Manet’s pioneering artistic achievements made him a leader of the emerging avant-garde that congregated in Paris’s Batignolles neighborhood to formulate the ideas that would eventually lead to Impressionism. In this gallery are works by Henri Fantin-Latour, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frederic Bazille and other artists active in the 1860s.
Degas and Caillebotte: Images of Modern Life features the aesthetic realism of Edgar Degas and Gustave Caillebotte, who balanced an interest in light and color with a desire to portray everyday life through carefully planned compositions and finely controlled drawing. Highlights of this gallery are two of Degas’s ballet paintings and Caillebotte’s The Floor Scrapers (1875).
Artists Painting Artists features works in which artists of the avant-garde such as Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissarro and Edouard Manet painted each other’s portraits, providing fascinating insight into their personal relationships.
Toward the Impressionist Landscape reveals the influence of plein air painters Eugene Boudin and Johann Jongkind on Edouard Monet’s early development in the 1860s.
Classic Impressionism is the largest section of the exhibition, containing masterpieces of landscape painting created throughout the 1870s by Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Berthe Morisot.
Pissarro and Cezanne explores the friendship and shared influences shaping the works of two of the earliest Impressionists, who painted similar subjects, often employing patterns of regularly applied brushstrokes, close tonalities and the frequent simplification of planes to define volume, weight, and space. Eventually, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cezanne would both depart from classic Impressionism — Pissarro to the pointillist technique of the younger artist Georges Seurat and Cezanne to an ever more geometric faceting.
Manet: Impressionism and Beyond brings the exhibition full circle, showing that Edouard Manet not only influenced the Impressionists, but was in turn influenced by them to paint out of doors, lighten his palette, and explore increasingly gestural brushwork. These innovations appear in the artist’s luminous On the Beach (1873) and the modern history painting The Escape of Rochefort (ca. 1881).

Tickets on Sale

Advance timed tickets for The Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay will be available August 30, 2010, through (additional charges apply) and on site at the Frist Center. As the Frist Center is one of only two U.S. venues for The Birth of Impressionism, the exhibition is expected to draw visitors from around the country.

Exhibition Sponsors

The Frist Center gratefully acknowledges the exhibition sponsors:

Platinum Sponsor: The HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA and the TriStar Family of Hospitals

Gold Sponsor: First Tennessee

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is supported in part by the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission and the Tennessee Arts Commission.

Exhibition Credits

The Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay is organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts with gratitude for exceptional loans from the collection of the Musee d’Orsay.

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

About the Frist Center

Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., is an art exhibition center dedicated to presenting the finest visual art from local, regional, U.S. and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions. The Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Gallery admission to the Frist Center is free for visitors 18 and younger and to Frist Center members. Frist Center admission for The Birth of Impressionism is $15.00 for adults and $12.00 for seniors, military and college students with ID. During The Birth of Impressionism, college students are admitted for $5.00 Thursday and Friday evenings, 5–9 p.m. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more with advance reservation by calling (615) 744-3246. The Frist Center is open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. and Sundays, 1–5:30 p.m., with the Frist Center Cafe opening at noon. Additional information is available by calling (615) 244-3340 or by visiting our Web site at

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