An Impression of Impressionist France

November 7, 2013

Some friends and I recently visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO, to see their latest special exhibit, “Impressionist France, Visions of Nation From LeGray to Monet.”  I’ve seen Impressionist shows in various museums but this show was not quite what we expected.  I think people flock to Impressionist shows to see idyllic rural settings, rosy cheeked children and young women with long dresses and parasols.  Especially, people at an Impressionist exhibit expect to see paintings.

But this exhibit was different.  The pamphlet we were handed explained, “Through 125 stunning works, Impressionist France explores the fascinating connections between landscape and national identity during a period in which France was fundamentally transformed and modernized.”  The way the exhibit did this was to divide the paintings into seven groups, Paris and the Modern Cityscape, Monuments, Railroads and Factories, Rivers and Forests, Mountains, Rural and Agricultural Life and Seascapes.

The biggest surprise in the exhibit was the number of photographs, and they were very good photographs.  There was also a display of the kind of photographic equipment used to create these images.  They were quite large and bulky, nothing like my tiny digital camera that I can slip in my pocket.  And yet they took remarkably good pictures.

Another unusual aspect of this exhibit was the obvious fascination of both painters and photographers with the coming of the industrial revolution.  They painted and photographed the new metal bridges that were replacing the old wooden ones. The smokestacks of factories appear in some of the paintings.  Railroads were another popular subject.

There were some traditional Impressionist works in the Rivers and Forests, Mountains, Rural and Agricultural Life and Seascapes categories.  We enjoyed the exhibit, which runs until February 9.  So you’ll have plenty of time to plan a visit if you live in this area.  And of course no visit to the Nelson is complete without lunch in the beautiful Rozzelle Court.

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