18 July 2012

Paintings from the Clark at the RA

The Royal Academy in London is showing its Summer Exhibition until 12 August. As usual the forces of taste, money and talent seem to achieve a balance in the form of red spots adjacent to things wondrous, weird or woeful, and more of them than ever. But this year it is possible to escape to the Sackler Wing to see something truly wonderful. The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, while under renovation, has sent some of its collection of 19th century French paintings on a three-year world tour. Their fifth stop is the RA, hence the exhibition, From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism Paintings from the Clark.

Most, but not all, of the pictures are Impressionist, with more than 20 by Renoir and others by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley and Morisot. These are put in the context of earlier 19th century French art and some of the conventional academic work of the time. Their quantity and quality reflects the Clarks’ taste having matched their substantial resources at a time when such works were expensive rather than only affordable in ones or twos for billionaires and oligarchs.

Although the Clark often lends to London exhibitions (Lautrec’s Jane Avril was at the Courtauld last year), many of the pictures at the RA are unfamiliar, so visitors might be struck by the colouring and composition of Renoir’s Onions (above), and (below) Manet’s Interior at Arcachon (with its bay on the Atlantic coast of SW France in the background).

There is also a chance to see a Degas, Dancers in the Classroom, which didn’t come to the RA for last year’s Degas and the Ballet.

Quite why so many of the Clarks’ receipts from Knoedler & Co and others are on display is unclear. From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism Paintings from the Clark continues until 23 September, and anyone who is interested in Impressionism will want to see it.

(‘Anticipointment rating’ 1 – out of 5, the lower the better)

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