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Monet, Renoir, Degas ...

Important PNW collections of Impressionists at Tacoma Art Museum

“Patton Creek,” oil on canvas by C.C. McKim, 1924, Tacoma Art Museum, gift of Esther and Jeff Clark. Photo credit: Mark Humpal

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Well over 100 years later, a majority of the world's landscape painters still paint in an Impressionist style. As if landscape art has not advanced -- which it has -- since the 1880s.

The French Impressionists -- Renoir, Degas and their contemporaries -- were considered radical when they were painting. Their art flew in the face of everything that had been considered sacrosanct in art since the Renaissance 400 years earlier. They dared to paint common people and commonplace scenes, and didn't even pretend to hide their brushstrokes. The establishment considered their art to be crude and childlike and definitely not museum-worthy.

Tacoma Art Museum offers a fresh look at the French Impressionists and at American Impressionists from right here in the Pacific Northwest who were inspired by the French movement.

The show is Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Their Circle: French Impressionism and the Northwest. Drawing on TAM's own collection and collections from other museums in the region, it chronologically covers the development of their art from works by Impressionism's precursors, such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet, to masters such as Monet, Degas, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, to American Impressionists including C.C. McKim, Clara Jane Stephens and Fokko Tadama.

"The purpose of this exhibition is deeply connected to the same passion that drove the French Impressionists, to transform the way we see," said TAM Executive Director David Setford, co-curator of this show along with Margaret Bullock. 

In some of the earliest works, such as Eugène Boudin's "The Beach at Trouville," we see that beyond painting commonplace scenes, the important innovations were lightening the palette and painting with dabs of color not meticulously blended as was required in previous work. In Boudin's "Washerwomen at Trouville," we see small figures in vast landscapes rendered as simple globs of paint with no details whatsoever, yet easily readable as people due to positions, gestures and color.

In works by Renoir and Monet, we see significant brightening of the palette and lush laying-on of paint, and with Sisley and Pissarro paint application becomes dots and dabs of color with no blending. The rosy cheeks in Renoir's "Heads of Two Young Girls," which has been shown often at TAM, fairly glow, and the background colors are laid down with exuberant splashes of color.

Many of the Impressionists severely cropped images as in Edgar Degas' "Dancers," painted on fan-shaped silk, while others began to paint in more sketchy manners, the most radical of which, in this show, is Berthe Marisot's "Jeanne with Doll," which looks like it could have been painted in the 21st century because it is so loose and expressive with more concern with visual expression than with realistic rendering.

The American Impressionists of the Pacific Northwest are shown in a separate area of the gallery. None are particularly well known. They clearly mastered the Impressionist style, but were a little late arriving on that particular scene. Since seeing the latest European art without a time delay was almost impossible in the 19th century, most of them lagged behind the French artists, painting in the Impressionist style at a time when Picasso and Braque and Kandinsky were creating abstract art.

This is a large show and an important slice of history.

MONET, RENOIR, DEGAS, AND THEIR CIRCLE, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday, through Jan. 5, 2020, $12-$55, Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258,

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