Impressionist art blooms at latest VMFA exhibit

Amelia Heymann
Contributing Writer

Henri Matisse’s impressionist era piece “Still Life with Pascal’s Pensées” is on display in the “Art of the Flower” exhibit at the VMFA until June 21. Photo by Marc Cheatham

Bold brush strokes, colors and the elements of nature made up the famous paintings of the impressionist era. For the next three months, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will celebrate this movement with their upcoming exhibit, “Van Gogh, Manet and Matisse: The Art of the Flower.” The exhibit features floral paintings that show how the artistic experimentation of the 18th-20th centuries led to the reinvention of the genre.

This exhibit will have more than 65 paintings created by more than 30 artists, including names such as Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. Mitchell Merling, the head for the Department of European Art at the VMFA, said the exhibit is split up into eight parts, starting with more traditional flower paintings from the 19th century to the impressionist era. VMFA director Alex Nyerges said the earlier pieces help us to understand the evolution of the flower painting.

Heather MacDonald, co-collaborator on the exhibit previously from the Dallas Museum of Art and current program officer at the Getty Foundation, said having all of the flower paintings together helps to show the constant conversation artists were having with each other within and across generations. Impressionist paintings often make references to the past.

“This became more and more evident even as we were hanging the pictures,” MacDonald said.

Kristie Couser, curatorial assistant for the Mellon Collection, said that there are certain themes and compositions that come and go through the series. One of the first pieces in the show is of a book and a bouquet of flowers, and we see Matisse go back to this composition in his piece at the end of the exhibit called “Still Life with Pascal’s ‘Pensées.” Couser said while there is a sort of tradition with the composition and form, you see certain elements of flower still lifes come and go through the years.

This is the first American exhibit to explore flower stilllife paintings from the 18th-20th centuries. Couser said while there have been exhibits in the past on impressionist paintings that included flower still lifes, this is the first still life exhibit featuring only flowers.

Debuting at the exhibit is the newest addition to the VMFA’s collection of Van Gogh paintings, “Bowl of Daisies.” Couser said it’s one of seven Van Gogh paintings in the exhibit that show the transformation of his art over his painting career.

Merling said this exhibit was six years in the making. The VMFA was able to obtain a lot of pieces for this exhibit through the French American Museum Exchange program, more commonly referred to as “Frame.” However, acquiring paintings for the exhibit was still a bit of work.

MacDonald said some pieces were easier to borrow than others. They were able to obtain one painting by sitting down with the director for the National Gallery of Canada and explaining the exhibit to him, while another painting took a few trips to the Van Gogh Museum before they would loan a piece to the VMFA. MacDonald said this was due in part to the high demand for impressionist art.

The exhibit debuted on the first day of spring, March 20, and will be at the VMFA until June 21. Tickets are $10 with a valid student ID and $15 without one.This is a touring exhibit, and the next stop will be in Denver.

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