I was most surprised by the faces.

Walking into the extraordinary new exhibition “Monet to Matisse: Masterworks of French Impressionism” at the Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center for the Arts, I was expecting to see rich landscapes and cityscapes, but I was unprepared for the evocative portraits.

In “Ramon Subercaseaux in a Gondola,” the 24-year-old John Singer Sargent captured the intense gaze of a friend and patron as the two men drew each other. With a slight angle and bold strokes of color, Sargent even captures the movement of the boat and the transitory nature of the moment.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s work often exposes the energy of Paris by night, but in “Dancer Seated on a Pink Divan,” he gives us a young ballerina in a pensive moment. Is she bored? Worried? Nervous?

Berthe Morisot’s “Peasant Girl among Tulips” conveys the beauty and dignity of everyday life in the French countryside in the late 19th century. The face, the hair, the hands, the dress, the tulips — all the elements echo each other.

In “Woman Playing the Guitar,” Henri Stanislas Rouart paints his subject — probably his daughter according to the description — as she seems to be lost in the music. She seems oblivious to the artist.

Visitors will also find some magnificent landscapes and other works in “Monet to Matisse,” which is comprised of 30 paintings from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis. The exhibition includes paintings by Paul Gaugin, Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse and other important artists of the era.

I found seeing the work of so many iconic painters both thrilling and overwhelming. I tried to focus on issues of technique and artistic influence, and I tried to digest the fascinating information in the well-written descriptions, but I kept getting distracted by another painting, by another face.

Fortunately, “Monet to Matisse” will be at the Jepson until Feb. 10, so local residents will have time for repeat visits.

Annual individual Telfair memberships, which allow unlimited access to the Jepson, Telfair Academy and Owens-Thomas House, are just $50, with various discounts available for seniors, families and other groups. And new members receive 20 percent off memberships through Oct. 31.

That is one of the best cultural bargains in town, especially considering the lure of a show like “Monet to Matisse.”

Bill Dawers writes City Talk in Savannah Morning News and blogs at Savannah Unplugged (www.billdawers.com) and hissing lawns (www.hissinglawns.com). Email billdawers@comcast.net.

 

IF YOU GO

What: “Monet to Matisse: Masterworks of French Impressionism from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens”

When: Through Feb. 10

Where: Jepson Center, 207 W. York St.

Cost: Varies

Free Family Day: 1-4 p.m. Oct. 20; includes painting demo by Jeffrey Markowsky

Info/related events: telfair.org/exhibitions/monet-matisse