Dreams and Reality: Masterpieces of Painting, Drawing and Photography from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris at the National Museum of Singapore

A similar view of the site, 2008. Wikipedia

Titled Dreams and Reality: Masterpieces of Painting, Drawing and Photography from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, this mega-exhibition from the collection of the world renowned Musée d’Orsay, features over 140 Salon, Realists, Impressionists and Post-Impressionists paintings, photographs and drawings from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. Slated to run at the National Museum of Singapore from October 26 2011 to February 5 2012, visitors will see works from the likes of the greatest Realist, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters: Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Edgar Degas, to name but a few.

Venus in Paphos by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres. This painting purports to represent Venus, the Roman goddess of love and fertility. This Venus, with specific physical features accentuating her oval face and large blue-grey eyes, bears little resemblance to the stereotypical gods and goddesses that Ingres usually liked to draw. We know the identity of the model: it was Mrs Antonie Balaÿ (1833-1901), daughter of a wealthy member of parliament. We do not know, however, how Ingres came to associate the naked body of Venus with the recognisable features of a woman from high society. As usual, Ingres here puts together Venus’ body without worrying about anatomical truthfulness with distortions that would later delight Picasso. The line of her back is much too curved, and her neck forms a strange angle with the left shoulder. This unusual body, combined with the distant gaze of Mrs Balaÿ, brings a strange eroticism to this hybrid work, somewhere between dream and reality.

The Forge by Fernand Cormon, an English artist. I found myself mesmerized by this spectacular work because Cormon effectively captured the atmospheric feeling of dense smoke, heat and fire as workmen go about their work smelting iron at a forge. The painting was created around 1893.

The exhibition explores the reaction of man towards modernity at the turn of the century from 1848 to 1912. The changing social and industrial landscapes of Paris in early modernity forced artists and photographers to rethink their approach to the visual world around them. Their varied responses generated new ways of depicting reality and in turn created a proliferation of styles.

The Dubourg Family by Henri Fantin-Latour, 1878. Although Fantin-Latour befriended several of the young artists who would later be associated with Impressionism, including Whistler and Manet, Fantin’s own work remained conservative in style. Whistler brought attention to Fantin in England, where his still-lifes sold so well that they were “practically unknown in France during his lifetime”. In 1875, Henri Fantin-Latour married a fellow painter, Victoria Dubourg, after which he spent his summers on the country estate of his wife’s family at Buré, Orne in Basse-Normandie, where he died of lyme disease.

The Birth of Venus by Alexandre Cabanel was painted in 1863. Shown to great success at the Paris Salon of 1863, The Birth of Venus was immediately purchased by the French Emperor Napoleon III for his own personal collection. Cabanel’s erotic imagery, cloaked in historicism, appealed to the propriety of the higher levels of society. Cabanel was a determined opponent of the Impressionists, although the refusal of the academic establishment to realize the importance of new ideas and sources of inspiration would eventually prove to be the undoing of the Academy.

The Clown Cha-U-Kao by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The artist Toulouse-Lautrec had discovered circuses very early on in life, thanks to his master and mentor Rene Princeteau, who had taken him to the Fernando circus in the Montmartre district of Paris. Painted in oils on card, this depiction of the clown Ch-U-Kao captures her in an intimate moment, getting dressed in her private dressing room. As she is trying to fasten a large yellow ruffle to the bodice of her stage costume, a mirror in the top left hand corner of the painting reveals the presence of a stern-looking, balding elderly gentleman in evening dress, the stereotypical bourgeois lover, close friend, admirer or customer. Little is known of the subject, who was an acrobat and part-time clown. Her stage name Cha-U-Kao was a phonetic transcription of the French words chahut (at that time an erotic variant of the can-can) and chaos (referring to the uproar when she appeared on stage at the Moulin Rouge and the Nouveau Cirque).

Highlights of the exhibition include Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players, Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night and Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus.

Carolus-Duran’s The Lady with the Glove, a life-sized full-length portrait of the artist’s young wife, was a great success at the 1869 Salon, where it won a medal. The French artist was noted for his stylish depictions of members of high society in Third Republic France.

Many other key works by forerunners of modern art such as Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Jean-François Millet as well as female Impressionists Berthe Morisot, Marie Bracquemond and Eva Gonzalès will also be showcased. A portrait of Georges Clemenceau by Édouard Manet will travel exclusively to Singapore.


About ranman

Design educator with a Masters of Design degree. 32 years of design experience. View all posts by ranman

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