“Art has been a part of my life from the very beginning,” says Telfair Museums' Chief Curator & Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs Courtney McNeil. “Impressionism is maybe one of the first things I ever saw with my eyes.”
McNeil explains that when her mother gave birth to her, the focal point in the room she chose to concentrate on was a reproduction of Claude Monet's brilliantly hued “Meadow with Poplars,” so when McNeil drew her first breath ever, it was likely accompanied by the sight of a Monet painting.
Viewing Impressionist works also made a sizable impact on McNeil as a young child, so the much-anticipated “Monet to Matisse” exhibition opening Sept. 28 at Telfair's Jepson Center resonates on many levels for her.
“This show for me personally is exciting because I remember visiting the Boston Museum of Fine Arts as a child and my mom's favorite was always the Impressionist wing,” says McNeil. “They have amazing works by Monet and Renoir and many others in those galleries and that was my first museum experience. It was a formative experience for me.”
“Monet to Matisse: Masterworks of French Impressionism from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens” is sure to be one of the most well-attended art exhibitions of the year. It features 30 paintings from many of the seminal practitioners of French Impressionism, including Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Marc Chagall, Georges Braque, and American practitioners Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent.
It's easy to forget that many of these artists were once reviled by the art world due to the fact that the style they developed was in direct contradiction to what was traditionally seen as fine art at the time.
“We're excited about this show because I feel like it's enabled us to play up an aspect of Impressionism that's not talked about much, which is the idea that these artists were really rebels in their day,” says McNeil. “They were rebelling against all the established norms. They felt like what they wanted to paint was not what was considered acceptable or didn't fit within the framework of the academies and the salons.”
When Impressionist paintings were first shown in the late 1800s, they were widely derided by critics of the era, but they eventually gained credibility and are now considered some of the finest masterworks of modern art. They not only established a definitive artistic detour from traditional modes of realism in painting, but they also set an example for the following generations, as it's now almost considered a requirement to rebel against what came before to be considered a “serious” contemporary artist.
“Before, there really wasn't a model for this,” says McNeil. “You found success within the established framework and there were no artistic rebels to this extent until the Impressionists came along. But every generation following them has been based on this idea of rebelling against the establishment.”
There's a wealth of associated programming around this exhibition, which can be found at Telfair.org, and the members-only sneak peek and opening lecture Sept. 27 already has a wait list, which should indicate how widely anticipated this show is.
For the first time, Telfair is giving daily tours through the run of the exhibition and is also offering 20 percent discounted memberships to new members through the month of October, so there's no reason to miss this exceptional opportunity to see these masterworks in person. No book or postcard can reproduce the experience of actually seeing these paintings up close.
“We're really excited,” says McNeil. “These are beautiful paintings... I couldn't be more excited. I'm giddy. You can quote me as giddy.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Monet to Matisse: Masterworks of French Impressionism from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens”
When: Sept. 28-Feb. 10
Where: Jepson Center, 207 W. York St.
Free Family Day: 1-4 p.m. Oct. 20; includes painting demo by Jeffrey Markowsky
Info/related events: telfair.org/exhibitions/monet-matisse