Big Names, Tiny Paintings

​A review of Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art at Seattle Art Museum by Harper M.

Coastofbrittany Boudin

The exhibit Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art at the Seattle Art Museum features artists many have heard of, but not always the style or subject we’re used to. The 71-piece collection from the National Gallery of Art, most of which were donated by siblings Ailsa and Paul Mellon, is comprised of works that were meant to be shown indoors, in domestic spaces. Most of these paintings were done in the 1860s and 70s, but were never shown in salons. Many were meant as gifts from the painter to a friend or fellow Impressionist, so the exact date they were made is unclear. All the Impressionists you’ve heard of are in the show: Manet, Renoir, Monet, Boudin, Cézanne, Bonnard, with a few Post-Impressionists like Gauguin and Van Gogh thrown in for good measure.

Being a huge fan of Impressionism, I loved all of the paintings, but three stood out. The first I noticed was Eugene Boudin’s “Coast of Brittany”. Made in 1870, most likely in France, the oil-on-canvas painting drew my attention because of the lighting. It is dark on the foreground over the water with moody clouds, but the light drastically changes toward the center of the painting, which portrays the far-off coast. The town on the hillside is beautiful, with not more than two or three brushstrokes making up each house, but it is still obvious that is a quaint little French-countryside town.

The next piece that I fell in love with was a little country scene by Alfred Sisley, called, plainly, “Meadow”. The scene depicts workers bending over, picking a nondescript grain, with other beautifully checkered fields behind them. I was drawn to this painting because it is so bright and cheery. I was also impressed with how the viewer can tell what the workers were doing, even though they are very simply done. The clouds are fluffy cotton balls on a sky of bright blue.

"Meadow" by Alfred Sisley. Photo by Harper M.

Lastly, I found myself drawn to a Post-Impressionist self-portrait by Paul Gauguin. Titled “Self-Portrait Dedicated to Carrière” and made in 1888 or 1889, the painting features a pretty unflattering view of the artist’s face, highlighted in blue. I liked the painting because of the clear brushstrokes, and the bright colors. The oil-on-canvas painting is intriguing because of the abnormally large chin, and pointed ears. Gauguin painted this during the legendary nine weeks he spent in the south of France with Vincent Van Gogh, a fellow Post-Impressionist.

The Gauguin selfie. Photo by Harper M.

There is a room dedicated to Vuillard later on in the exhibit, filled with earth tones and simple, domestic scenes. In the room dedicated to Renoir, there are pale paintings that seem bright, airy, and happy. Finally, there is a Bonnard room, bursting with colorful flowers and carefree outdoor scenes.

All in all, I would highly recommend Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art, on display at the Seattle Art Museum now through January 10, 2016. The tiny paintings aren’t always the style you’d expect from their painter, but it’s hard not to enjoy a mound of butter!

No, seriously. There's a painting of a mound of butter. It's called "Mound of Butter". It's awesome.

Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art
Seattle Art Museum
Through January 10, 2016

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