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Arts / Performing Arts

A Houston and Dallas Art Showdown

Blockbuster Exhibits Open on Same Day, Which Painter Will Reign Supreme?

BY // 10.16.16

Two intensely watched, never-to-be-repeated exhibitions touch down in Texas, both opening the same day: Sunday, October 16. One unveils at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: a retrospective for Degas (1834–1917) — the psychological master of the Impressionists — organized by the foremost living scholars of the painter, MFAH director Gary Tinterow and former Louvre director Henri Loyrette. They and the late Canadian curator Jean Sutherland Boggs rewrote the book on Degas when they organized the 1988 exhibition that established the canon on the painter while for the first time presenting a full chronology of the artist’s oeuvre.

Thirty years later, building on fresh study from a generation of art historians, “Degas: A New Vision,” arrives at the MFAH. It’s co-organized with the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, where the exhibition began its tour this summer. Houston is the only American venue for a show that may not be seen again in our lifetime.

Approximately 200 works, culled from public and private collections worldwide, present the Impressionist across all media: painting, drawing (including those glorious pastels), printmaking, sculpture, and a cache of more than 20 of his surviving photographs. The penetrating portrait of his sister and brother-in-law, the Morbillis (circa 1865), as well as complex figure arrangements that reveal the simultaneity of modern life — A Cotton Market in New Orleans (1873), painted during a visit to his mother’s family — underscore the complexity and psychological depths plumbed by Degas. 

Degas' "Edmondo and Therese Morbilli," circa 1865, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Photo courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Degas’ “Edmondo and Therese Morbilli,” circa 1865, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Photo courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

In contrast, Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum examines an art-historical wormhole via one of the most famous Impressionists: Monet (1840–1926). Sixty works loaned from public collections in the U.S., Europe, and Japan put a lens to a period that has never been studied until now. The Kimbell’s deputy director, George T. M. Shackelford, curates “Monet: The Early Years,” co-organized by the Kimbell and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it travels next February to the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

Shackelford says that a touchstone canvas in the Kimbell’s collection was the catalyst for a fresh look at Monet: Pointe de la Hève at Low Time (1865), the first painting the artist submitted to the imprimatur of French painting, the Salon, in 1865. “The Early Years” spans works from the previous decade, beginning in 1858 when the painter was 17 and concludes in 1872, when the 31-year-old Monet had settled in Argenteuil on the River Seine near Paris and turned his full focus to water and sky, birthing a movement that a critic labeled in 1874 — Impressionism.

Watch for cameos by Monet’s wife, Camille, and infant son, Jean. Another highlight is Luncheon on the Grass (1866), cut down from an epic 13-by-18 foot masterpiece, one of the riches on loan from Musée d’Orsay, Paris. “The Early Monet” illuminates the artist’s dueling approaches to painting during the first decades of his career, from the lyric still lifes typified by Bouquet of Flowers (1869) to the more broadly painted On the Banks of the Seine, Bennecourt (1868).

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PaperCity sat down with the curators, Shackelford of Kimbell Art Museum and Tinterow of Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, to discuss “Monet: The Early Years” and “Degas: A New Vision.”

Kimbell deputy director/exhibition curator George T.M. Shackelford on “Monet: The Early Years”:

When and how the show was hatched.

Eric Lee [Kimbell director] and I were talking about exhibition ideas over lunch a couple of years ago. We were discussing our 1918 Weeping Willow by Monet and the possibility of an exhibition of the late works of Monet. We’ll be organizing that show for 2018, but first we wanted to bring the painter’s early works together around our 1865 masterpiece, Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide.

What this exhibition reveals that you consider most significant.

I think the main revelation is how consistently powerful the works Monet made in the 1860s and early 1870s really are. People say to me all the time, “Early Monet is my favorite.” And now our visitors will be able to see what they mean. By bringing the very best together — we were so lucky with loans — we can show the artist in a way that he’s never really been seen before.

What you want attendees to discover and/or take away.

I hope visitors will leave the exhibition astonished at what they’ve just seen. It’s really breathtaking to follow Monet’s invention — and I mean that both in terms of inspiration and self-creation. Let’s hope people leave with a new admiration for Monet’s art, because they’ll have discovered part of it they didn’t know before.

MFAH director/exhibition co-curator Gary Tinterow on “Degas: A New Vision”:

On why Degas is relevant today.

Degas remains one of the most extraordinary artists of modern times. He made many iconic pictures that define our image of Paris in the 19th century. But, more important, he showed us — with his portraits, his genre scenes, his pictures of ballet dancers rehearsing, or jockeys preparing for the race — how life is actually lived. People in Degas’ art are rarely smiling for the camera. They are always shown thinking, catching their breath, or summoning their courage.

Takeaway from the show.

Degas’s ultimate contribution is his insight into the human condition.


“Degas: A New Vision,” October 16, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

“Monet: The Early Years,” October 16 through January 29, at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

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