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Australian gallery shines light on the Impressionists


Transporting famous Impressionist works 16,000km from Paris to Adelaide has provided the French national treasures the luxury of being appreciated in a light-filled space in tune with their era.

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Opening today at the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Colours of Impressionism; Masterpieces from the Musée D’Orsay features more than 60 works curated to chart the revolution of colour that lies at the heart of the 19th Century’s most important art movement.

Paul Perrin, Curator of Paintings at the Musée D’Orsay, said the South Australian exhibition would be special because it was housed in a building from the same era as the paintings and the large galleries gave each artwork its own space.

The light-filled 19h-century Elder Wing of the Art Gallery of South Australia is perfect to show off the Impressionist masterpieces.

“The Impressionists painted these paintings to be seen in spaces like this, not a train station,” Perrin said.

“The audience has time and space to look at each painting one after the other.

“I am happy with the classical architecture of the galleries, the paintings look beautiful in the space.”

The exhibition occupies the Elder Wing of the Art Gallery of South Australia, which was opened in 1900 and reflects the same architectural tastes the Impressionists lived among, including vaulted ceilings and skylights.

To host the exhibition, the building was emptied of more that 700 works and each of its five rectangular galleries repainted in shades of grey to emphasize the exhibition’s theme of the revolutionary passage from dark to light.

“The grey walls are ideal for the show,” said Perrin.

The Impressionist exhibition visited the National Gallery Singapore before heading to South Australia.

The exhibition begins with the dark tones of Manet’s Spanish-influenced paintings, hung on light-grey walls, and progresses through each separate gallery to the rich green and blue hues of the French countryside as painted by Cézanne, Monet and Pissarro, to the rosy pigments of Renoir’s and Morisot’s female figures hung on dark-grey walls. All the galleries are brightly lit with natural light.

The sheer size of the Elder Wing – there is no more than 12 works in each of the five 300sq m galleries – has allowed Perrin to give each of the 60 paintings its own space. The space has also allowed to him place works side-by-side that might not usually be seen together.

“When planning the exhibition on paper we had a plan of what would go where, but when we arrived we completely changed what we had in mind,” Perrin said.

“On paper you don’t have the size of the paintings, their frames and the actual space all in line. We took the chronological and colour order and tried to make them fit the best we could.”

The galleries afford ample space to enjoy the Impressionist’s works, such as Gustave Caillebotte’s Rooftops in the snow [snow effect].

With this luxury of space, Perrin chose to place Gustave Caillebotte’s Vue de toites alone on one wall framed by an existing white arch.

“It looks absolutely perfect,” said Perrin.

“This is not the case in Paris where it is seen with other paintings. It’s now a jewel in the exhibition.”

In Gallery Four, Perrin placed Monet’s Un coin d’appartement painting of the inside of his apartment and Renoit’s portrait of Monet inside the same room to illustrate their friendship.

“We saved the Le bassin aux nymphéas, harmonie rose and three other Monet’s for the last gallery,” said Perrin.

Art Gallery of South Australia Director Nick Mitzevich said besides being the most important exhibition to tour South Australia, the close co-operation with the Musee D’Orsay would help his staff stage better shows and further the relationship with France.

South Australia has an historic link to France – British and French explorers met by chance along the coastline in 1802 – and the relationship has been rekindled with the announcement that France’s Naval Group will build 12 submarines in a $50m project over five decades in Adelaide.

Colours of Impressionism; Masterpieces from the Musée D’Orsay runs until 29 July 2018 at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide.

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