TACOMA ART MUSEUM, Tacoma WA – To Jan 5, 2020
by Rosemary Ponnekanti
If you’re expecting a blockbuster full of water lilies, you won’t find it at Tacoma Art Museum’s new Impressionist show. But in fact, Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Their Circle is much more interesting: a dive into multiple Impressionist modes and how they played out in America’s West.
The show, co-curated by TAM director David Setford, pulls in loans from Northwest institutions and private collectors for some unexpected gems. There’s Degas – but not the usual dancer canvases. Instead, two small bronzes contrast toned muscles with soft gazes, while painted ballerinas float over a silk fan like a surrealistic gold dream.
On the facing wall is a landscape of landscapes, sweeping over green hillsides and tranquil waterways. It’s a perfect comparison of style: Monet details roofs and fields with long vertical strokes, while Gustave Caillebotte’s waves are horizontal and Alfred Sisley plays with dots. There’s also a portrait wall, where Berthe Morisot’s women are secretive and moody and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s bright. A darker olive wall frames the more somber millwheels and forests of Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
Around the corner, Impressionism crosses the Atlantic. Co-curator Margaret Bullock says she was aiming for “a representative cross-section both of the variety of ways Northwest artists interpreted the style, as well as how they came to know about it,” and she has achieved that: Childe Hassam’s sparkling jewel tones, Cecilia Beaux’s classical faces and frilly dresses, the soft, watery Oregon landscapes of C.C. McKim and Clara Jane Stephens. Most fascinating is the work of Fokko Tadama, who migrated from India to Seattle, and whose pale pink and gold scenery is more celestial than Northwest.
Yes, there is one big Monet: River at Lavacourt (1879), with ripples of olive, blue and lavender, and a pink tree arching into the sky like a Degas dancer.
The Impressionists – French and American – were much broader and deeper than just a pond of water lilies. This show dives into those depths.