Thursday, May 8, 2014

Impressionist France

At the St. Louis Art Museum, through July 6, Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet. The exhibit explores the role of nineteenth-century painters and photographers in the construction of French identity. Five things I was surprised to learn:

A state-funded project employed five photographers (including Gustave Le Gray) to document French monuments in need of conservation.

Another photographer, Charles Marville, photographed old Parisian streets and buildings before they were demolished in Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s project of urban renewal.

Le Gray and Marville were both official photographers; Le Gray for France, Marville for Paris. All very WPA-like in my achronological head.

French rural life has long been associated with the idea of la France profonde, “deep France,” ancient and unchanged.

The paint tube transformed the possibilities of painting. The painter John Goffe Rand invented the tube in 1841. It made paint easily portable, allowing painters to work en plein air. Pierre-Auguste Renoir: “Without colors in tubes, there would be no Cézanne, no Monet, no Pissarro, and no Impressionism.”

Here’s more about paint tubes, from Smithsonian Magazine: “Never Underestimate the Power of a Paint Tube.” (This article is the source of the Renoir sentence above.) And here, from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, is Rand’s patent, “Improvement in the Construction of Vessels or Apparatus for Preserving Paint, & c.”

[Is there even one American city with an official photographer?]

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