Rembrandt and Degas: Two Young Artists, at the Clark Art Institute

Sponsored jointly by the Clark Art Institute and the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, this small exhibition of prints and paintings by Rembrandt and Degas opens with Degas’ assertion that “What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters.”

One of the marvelous things Degas learned from them is that new art need not always look like old art, that the great masters often were consummate experimenters developing entirely new kinds of imagery. Indeed Degas is well-known for his pastels of dancers, which often involve mark-making and composing methods that veer far away from the academic traditions of his early training.

This new show reveals a young Degas at a time of transition between traditions (French Academic versus Dutch Realist), revealing much about how Degas navigated the two. It’s a lovely, outstanding small show.

Live in HD? Donizetti’s Anna Bolena from the Met in Pixels

The audience poured out of the auditorium, through the lobby, and out into the parking lots with such a happy general purring that it seemed villainous to criticize the brave new entertainment Peter Gelb has brought the world. For almost five years now we have been able to watch High Definition video projections of performances at the Metropolitan Opera in movie theaters and auditoriums like the one at the Clark Art Institute, which I had just vacated. HD Live, as it’s called, has become a hit in most places, I hear—certainly in Great Barrington and Williamstown, where I’ve seen them, mingling with a dense, enthusiastic, mostly mature crowd. It’s often harder to get a ticket to one of these projections than it is to get a seat at Met itself.

What could be more commendable than creating a show that provides so much enjoyment? It brings opera to a vast global audience at reasonable prices, and at various times in the past half-century many have feared opera was in danger of dying out altogether, either from the expense of production and operation or the sheer irrelevance of its elitist origins. The Met opera broadcasts, which began in the early 1930s, changed many lives and, in synergy with the Metropolitan Opera Guild and Opera News, helped raise significant sums of money for the Met during the Great Depression, when the house desperately needed funds and people needed cheap entertainment. Are the times not similar today? The broadcasts only created more opera-lovers, and what possible harm could they do? (Actually I know of one example, but I’ll leave that for another time.) Wouldn’t the HD transmissions, with their spectacular images and vivid sound bring even more good into the world?

French Government Awards Chevalier in Order of Arts and Letters to Richard Rand

The Government of France awarded Richard Rand a Chevalier in its Ordre des Arts et Lettres during a ceremony yesterday at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Rand is the Robert and Martha Berman Lipp Senior Curator of Paintings at the Clark. Christophe Guilhou, the Consul General of France in Boston, made the presentation in recognition of Rand’s significant contributions to promoting French art and culture.

The Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) was established in 1957 and is awarded by the French Minister of Culture to recognize eminent artists, writers, and scholars for their efforts in promoting the awareness andenrichment of France’s cultural heritage throughout the world. Rand was inducted as a knight in the Order.

Eye to Eye: European Portraits 1450–1850, Clark Art Institute, January 23 – March 27, 2011

The Clark usually manages to show at least one exhibition from an important private collection every year, and for us, the public, this is surely one of its healthiest policies. The Clark, after all, originated from a private collection, an idiosyncratic one, as the best private collections usually are, and the professionals who have been responsible for it since have made an effort remain true to the vision of the founders. Even after the Manton Bequest, a rather different, but compatible private collection, the atmosphere and ethos remain the same. To host distinguished private collections of a variety of different sorts is both an hommage to the initiative of the Clarks and an open window on different worlds, some of which, like the selection from the Steiner Collection of old master drawings, have found their way into the permanent collection. Others come and go, enriching the galleries for a few months, then leaving them open for other guests. I can think of few other institutions where such exhibitions seem so much like polite hospitality.

The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, through March 13, 2011

In The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer, the Clark produced a fundamentally different sort of exhibition, and a most enjoyable one, which should prove a fertile opportunity for Williams undergraduates and the general public to discover an important body of work from one of the West’s very great artists, Albrecht Dürer. Very few American museums can boast the depth in their holdings of a single artist to attempt this. In Abstract Expressionism the Museum of Modern Art has, with one of the strongest areas of their collection, just created the kind of experience one might find at the Prado or the Uffizi. The Clark’s holdings of Dürer prints are so extensive and of such high quality that they make it possible to offer a survey of similar quality, with 75 of 300 prints in all. The Clark possesses most of Dürer’s subjects and many impressions are of the highest quality. Hence, this exhibition is an ideal opportunity to get to know a body of work that occupies a central place in western culture…

A New Acquisition for the Clark: Théodore Rousseau’s La Ferme dans les Landes

At a time when many institutions are seriously discussing deaccessioning and other radical means of keeping afloat, the Clark can boast of a fascinating new acquisition, Théodore Rousseau’s La Ferme dans les Landes – La maison du Garde (oil on canvas, 64.5 x 99.1 cm; 25.4 x 39 in.). While the Clark has several charming small works from the Barbizon School, it has been on the lookout for a major, representative painting, and when it appeared with the Matthiesen Gallery, first at Maastricht and later in their London galleries, the museum took steps to acquire it.

Drawn to Drama: Italian Works on Paper, 1500-1800 at the Clark

As the supply of old master drawings on the market dwindles, so do exhibitions of them, but if the exhibitions are fewer, their quality remains almost as strong as ever. The Uffizi continued its distinguished tradition at the Morgan Library this past winter, and now the Clark offers a fascinating and very beautiful layered exhibition consisting of sheets from different periods in the formation of its own collection interleaved with one of the most original and appealing of present-day private collections, the Italian drawings of Robert Loper, whose gifts include, in addition to expertise in the nooks and byways of Italian art of the sixteenth through the eighteenth century, fine taste, and a keen sense of fun.

Claude Lorrain, Coast View with Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl, 1673. Pen and brown ink with gray and gray-brown wash and white heightening on blue paper, 7 1/2 by 10 inches The British Museum, London

Claude Lorrain Landscape Drawings from the British Museum at the Clark

Here in the Berkshires an exhibition of Claude Lorrain, “the Raphael of Landscape-painting,” as Horace Walpole called him, brings his work into especially sympathetic surroundings. The view from Pine Cobble, the steeper faces of Mt. Greylock, or its splendid waterfall remind us readily enough of the grander sights sketched by Claude and his fellow artists on their forays into the Roman Campagna. This natural beauty even nurtures a predilection for landscape, so that local galleries can subsist on landscapes, purveying local views for local walls. Even the Clark is susceptible, if you look over the exhibition schedule of the past few years, in which landscapes or seascapes by Klimt, Calame, Courbet, and Turner have been prominent. Far from cloying, or betraying undue self-absorption, Claude Lorraine: €”The Painter as Draftsman Drawings from the British Museum enhances this harmless local obsession with a comprehensive and coherent view of an artist whose cultural importance is undeniable, however one might discuss his stature as an artist. Claude’s influence has extended beyond art— among certain classes of British society, at least—into the shaping of whole environments and human life within them

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