The French Impressionists, Actual-Size

Claude Monet, The Japanese Footbridge, 1889
Claude Monet, The Japanese Footbridge, 1889
Courtesy of the MFAH

It's your dorm-room mantlepiece come to life this month, when the French Impressionists exhibit comes to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. The show, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces, is on loan to the MFAH while their permanent home in Washington D.C.'s National Gallery is under construction. Opening February 20 and running through May 23, it features names any Art History 101 student will recognize, including including Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Van Gogh.

Think you've been there, done that, sent the postcard, and don't need to see the show in person? MFAH's Curator of European Arts Dr. Helga Aurisch begs to differ.

She told ArtAttack that viewing the works live and in person is a whole new experience. She says one of the most astonishing things for people is realizing the size of the work doesn't match the standard poster size they might've tacked to their wall. "When [they] stand in front of it, people react to the very large size, or (in some cases) the very small size, of the works." she said. "And you can feel the energy, you can see each brushstroke, giving us an idea that we are part of the creative excitement of these paintings."

Take Van Gogh's Roses, for example. "They are phenomenal," she said. "When he painted them, they were actually multicolored: pink, bluish and white, but within a year, they faded away to a more uniform white." Up close, though, one can see the underlying traces of the colors Van Gogh originally used. Aurisch said that conservators believe the effect was intentional, as Van Gogh would have known the "fugitive pigments" he was using would fade.

This is the third MFAH show of world-famous works contemplated by the museum's late director Peter Marzio, after the MOMA and Metropolitan Museum shows of the last decade. Marzio believed that seeing such well-known works from other collections in person was important for Houston--to see them, as Aurisch says, in our "warm, wonderful Texas light."

Vincent Van Gogh, Roses, 1890
Vincent Van Gogh, Roses, 1890
Courtesy of the MFAH

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