Photo: Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal
Odilon Redon (1840-1916), “Spider or Spider lilt“, 1887, test, test before the letter, lithograph on chine appliqué. Private Collection.
What to do when a social, political or artistic, becomes suffocating and does not allow ideas that are explorers and intelligent to express themselves ? A question of great relevance today, while the middle of the international contemporary art scene is totally gentrified. The exhibition presented at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal is a form of celebration of the “spirit of independence” in relation to the dominant norms through 500 works of Signac, Seurat, Pissarro, Redon, Degas, Lautrec, Morisot…
The exhibition focuses on the desire of artists at the turn of the 1900s, the fight against academicism and aesthetic values of the ruling class. This is the time when the art critic Joris-Karl Huysmans, editorial director of The independent Review, complained about the abusive power of the State and of the Academy of fine arts in art and was the official paint was to “puke” !
Against the artists official
Remember the facts. In 1884, a group of artists founded a new exhibition structure. The Salon des Indépendants was intended to be without a jury of admission, or rewards. In the spring of 1884, they make a first trial of exposure in order to fight against the official Salon, held since 1667. This event was part of a long list of exhibitions protesters : the private house of the “protest” Gustave Courbet in 1855 ; the refusés of 1863 ; the exhibition of impressionists in 1874 in the studio of the photographer Nadar, the artists already qualified independent…
Modern art-it would be a succession of revolts artists, outsiders, creators strange in the wildlife art ? In 1880, the official Salon still refuses a lot of works to innovative, including impressionist paintings, which led to the establishment of a second refusés in 1883. And then, early in 1884, same player shoot again, several artists were still prohibited exposure, including Seurat with his now famous painting bathing at Asnières — work bought after the death of the painter by the art critic and anarchist Félix Fénéon. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. First expo of the Group of independent artists took place. Victor Hugo supported publicly.
The adventure turned to the feud between the artists in the spring of 1884, and several of them wanted to at the end of the same year to take a winter Lounge sponsored this time by the Society of independent artists. Signac and Seurat are made recognize, and formed a movement that was called “vibriste” and that passed to history under the designation of “pointillist” and ” divisive “. This Salon des Indépendants, which still exists, and who last February celebrated its 136th edition — defended often by modern artists outside the norm.
The art of a new society
This exhibition, the MMFA is almost totally composed of works from a private collection, owned by a single collector, who will remain mysterious… well, that would have maybe stopped some of the artists of that time who were close movements anarchists and communists. It should be noted, moreover, that the result of this presentation allows particularly good to see how impressionism and post-impressionism were often linked with social issues and committed to realism.
Many of the rooms of the exhibition are particularly successful. That on “The spectacle of Paris” is remarkable and sets the scene of the advertising posters, prints and original paintings on the nightlife in the French capital… This component we will remind that the proliferation of images is not, as is the cliché, a recent phenomenon. This is the time that the artist Félix Vallotton describes precisely ” The age of paper “. The room dedicated to the works of Odilon Redon is also exceptional and allows us to contemplate the approach of a creator, singular.
Artists if independent ?
We can nevertheless make a few criticisms of this exhibition. Wishing to celebrate the independence and originality, she would have been able to have a structure that is more innovative and less conventional. It starts with a gallery rather conventional portraits of artists who will be able to let believe that it is the individual that is the engine of change, whereas at that time — and still today — it is rather the concept of groups that helped to make history. This valorization of the individual is repeated in several rooms devoted to a single artist. The succession of rooms also follows a temporal progression linear, which is not innovative with respect to the reading of the story.
As for the concept of independent artists and independent… Anne Cauquelin, in his famous book The art of contemporary (1992), explained how the idea of autonomous art and free was a bit of an invention, a mythology of the modern art. The modern artists have had quickly enough of the criticism to defend, galleries to represent them and even collectors to buy their works. For example, Gaston Lévy, co-founder of Monoprix, bought at this time 43 paintings and works on paper Paul Signac.
As to the aesthetic revolution that the art of independent means… It must be confessed that she was not always at the rendezvous. The works of Charles Angrand, Maximilien Luce and Berthe Morisot were often quite wise. And it’s necessary to say that the thought of Signac, ” the soul of the Salon of Independents “, is always stated in the parameters of an updated classicism, rather than as an aesthetic rupture. The quotes from the artist placed here and there on the walls the say well. He wanted to find harmony and calm colors that might be too choppy…
To accompany the exhibition, the MUSEUM — which is one of the most important publishers of art books in the country — published a monumental catalogue. With the participation of 19 authors from backgrounds as different as the Archives Signac (Charlotte Hellman key exchange), the Musée Bonnard (Véronique Serrano), the Fondation Félix Vallotton (Katia Poletti), the University of Edinburgh (Belinda Thomson and Richard Thomson)… An overview very useful to learn about the arts in Europe at the turn of 1900.
Signac and the self-employed : a catalogue
In collaboration with Editions Hazan, Paris and Montreal, 2020, 384 pages.
To see the video
Paris at the time of post-impressionism, Signac and the Independent
Museum of fine arts, until 15 November