Exhibit Review – Beyond Impressionism

Beyond Impressionism

Masterpieces from the Musée d’ Orsay

May 3 – August 31, 2014

National Museum of Korea


The approach to the National Museum of Korea is currently guarded by a 50ft tall lady holding a parasol. Her flowing gown mocks the visitors who traverse the vast grounds as they swim through the muggy Seoul air. But eventually we find ourselves under the massive outdoor atrium waiting for tickets.

Henri Rousseau’s Snake Charmer… luring in a few extra patrons

The ticket box promises the erotic Primitivism of Henri Rousseau. There are little statues of the creatures and characters from his painting populating the grounds outside. Great for photo-ops. Unfortunately for fans of Rousseau’s Naïve stylings, there is but the one painting, and it is hung just before the point of no re-entry.

Parisian life is rich in poetic, marvelous subjects. We are surrounded by the marvelous, which sustains us like air itself, but which we do not perceive.
-Charles Baudelaire, Salon de 1846

Beyond Impressionism is not about any individual artist though, despite the expectations created by the pamphlets and posters. Rather it is much more about the co-development of modern Paris and the beginnings of modern art – how they shaped and were shaped by each other. The collection becomes a narrative of sorts, where the Narcissism of the Parisian world is not only the backdrop, but a character that the artists we view embrace or reject.

The boulevards are not only the heart and the head of Paris, but also the soul of the entire world.
-Alfred Delvau, Les plaisirs de Paris, 1867

The exhibit is divided into six themed rooms, each focusing on a group of artists, plus a ‘prologue’ to set the scene and two ‘intersections’ providing more Parisian backdrops.

This just screams grandeur and self-importance. I think I made a Minecraft palace like this once.

The ‘prologue’ room consists of architectural designs and drawings of Paris’ reconstruction. Much fun for those of us who drool over maps and schematics, though of less interest for those not so inclined. Either way, the boulevards, the neoclassical apartments and the magnificent balloons soaring over the reborn city of light prepare you for the impressionists, the masters of light.

London Monet
Nothing says Paris like the Parliament building in London
I want to paint the air in which the bridge, the house and the boat are to be found – the beauty of the air around them, and that is nothing less than the impossible.
-Claude Monet, In a letter to Alice, 1893

In the first four segments we are treated to the impressionists and their parting of styles as each artist focused on what they saw as most important for their artistic vision. Degas’ dancers express movement, Monet’s landscapes subtle changes of light and Renoir’s portraits a return to classical emphasis on form. The loose, impromptu strokes of the impressionists give way to the more static, almost sterile Neo-Impressionists, here represented by the pointillism of Georges-Pierre Seurat and Paul Signac.

I want to paint men and women with that something if the eternal which the halo used to symbolize and which we seek to confer by actual radiance and vibration of our colorings.
-Vincent van Gogh, In a letter to Theo van Gogh, 1888

The calm of the Pointillists is contrasted by the more spiritual and intuition driven pieces from the likes of Gaugin, Cezanne, and the obligatory Van Gogh. Like Rousseau, there is only one Gogh though. The placing of these painters of the human soul is made more ironic by the placement of the ‘intersections’ of the Eiffel Tower and Parisian street life. While the contrast is a tad jarring, these rooms provide almost a palette cleanser in preparation of the last third of the exhibit.

Portrait of Paul Ranson as a prophet cosplayer painted by Paul Sérusier.
We need publicity, broad daylight, the street, the cabaret, the café, the restaurant,
to testify favorably or unfavorably about ourselves, to chat, to be happy or unhappy,
to satisfy the needs of our vanity or our mind,
to laugh or cry
-Alfred Delvau, Les plaisirs de Paris, 1867

The exhibit finishes with another contrast, the exaltation of the opulent versus the exaltation of the mystic or symbolic. Quite fittingly, ‘Paris: La Belle Époque’s walls are a deep red, emphasizing the decadence, while the final stretch of the Symbolists is a dark, almost cave like experience.

We should remember that a picture – before a war horse, a nude woman, or telling some other story – is essentially a flat surface covered with colors arranged in a particular pattern.
-Maurice Denis, Definitions of Neo-Traditionalism, 1890
All right folks, the review is over. Make sure you take all your belongings with you.

Unless you are jaded or have been over-exposed to Impressionism, ‘Beyond Impressionism’ is a nice walk through the cultural exuberance and artistic dominance of late 19th France.

It’ll cost you 12,000w per adult, though various memberships could cut that down a bit.

You can get to the Museum easily by taking line 4 to Ichon station.

Or just punch this into your map of choice:

서울특별시 용산구 서빙고로 137

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