Metropolitan Museum of Art New York: Chefs-d'oeuvre

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Metropolitan Museum of Art New York: Chefs-d'oeuvre
Alfred Sisley (English, 1839–1899), View of Marly-le-Roi from Coeur-Volant, ~1876 Oil on canvas. 65,4 x 92,4 cm. Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot, 1967.

MARTIGNY, SWITZERLAND.- With this exhibition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York: Chefs-d’oeuvre de la peinture européenne, the Fondation Pierre Gianadda at Martigny continues its collaboration with New York’s Metropolitan Museum. In 1989, the Metropolitan exhibited the great Jacques and Natasha Gelman collection of twentieth-century European art. Léonard Gianadda, working with the Museum and Mrs. Gelman, secured the collection for exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in the summer of 1994. Since 1996, the Metropolitan has lent works to important exhibitions at Martigny devoted to the painters Manet, Modigliani, Gauguin, Morisot, and Signac. In 2004 the Metropolitan assisted in bringing to the foundation the treasures of the Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai, Egypt. Now, for the first time, the Fondation Pierre Gianadda presents an entire exhibition devoted to works from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, comprising fifty Old Master and nineteenth-century European paintings.

Since its establishment, the Metropolitan Museum has been collecting every form of artwork representing cultures from all time periods and every part of the world. The first works purchased for the collection were one hundred and seventy-four European Old Master paintings, principally by Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century artists, bought in Paris and Brussels in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. Five of those works, by Poussin, Teniers the Younger, Panini, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and Francesco Guardi, are featured in the exhibition. After modest beginnings in two small buildings in New York, in 1880 the Metropolitan opened at its present site in Central Park, at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street. Thanks in large part to generous donors and benefactors, the Museum has expanded to house over three million objects in an area of two million square feet (609,600 square meters.)

This exhibition, featuring works of the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, presents a fraction of the roughly 2,500 works presently in the collection of European and nineteenth-century paintings. The collection is strongest in works from France and Italy, closely followed by the Dutch, Flemish, Netherlandish, British, and Spanish schools.

Among the most important paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York: Chefs-d’oeuvre de la peinture européenne is El Greco’s The Adoration of the Shepherds (05.42). A later work, dating to about 1610, while the artist was living in Toledo, this is one of several versions of the subject, which was in demand as an altarpiece or for private devotion. El Greco’s paintings have been admired for their spiritual, visionary qualities, and the expressive, twisting shapes, extremely elongated figures, and contrasting light and shadow of this work demonstrate the artist’s loosening hold on realism at that time. A major Dutch portrait in the exhibition is Rembrandt’s The Standard Bearer (Floris Soop) (49.7.35), painted in 1654, and once in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds. The sitter wears the ceremonial regalia of a standard bearer of an Amsterdam shooting-guild. Soop was a wealthy manufacturer and a neighbor of Jan Six, a patron whom Rembrandt also portrayed that same year. The portrait of Floris Soop, in which details of the costume are impressively rendered, reflects Rembrandt’s feeling for humanity and character.

The Metropolitan Museum first exhibited Impressionist paintings as early as 1889. Manet’s The Spanish Singer (49.58.2), dating to in 1860, came to the collection in 1949 as the gift of William Church Osborn, President of the Museum. This early work reflects the artist’s and the public’s enthusiasm for the art and culture of Spain. The painting won Manet his first critical success, with an honorable mention in his debut at the Salon of 1861, although some critics reacted unfavorably to the realistic style and visible brushstrokes. The Spanish Singer was bought by opera singer Jean-Baptiste Faure in 1873. Manet also made a watercolor, possibly a sketch for this painting, as well as an engraving. Greuze or Ribot have been suggested as sources for the subject. The identity of the sitter has not been ascertained: Jérôme Bosch, and Huerta, both Spanish guitar players, had been proposed, but an unidentified Spanish musician is the likely model.

Renoir’s In the Meadow (51.112.4) entered the Museum in 1951. It was painted about 1888-92, when Renoir was depicting pairs of young girls in intimate, innocent scenes that appealed to public taste. Although the models once were thought to be the daughter and niece of Berthe Morisot, they have not been positively identified. The landscape recalls the decorative settings of eighteenth-century French paintings, particularly those of Watteau. In the Meadow was probably executed in the studio rather than out-of-doors, but the figures integrate harmoniously with the setting. In this work of swirling colors, Manet juxtaposes cool with warm tones. These and the other paintings that make up the exhibition reflect the diverse tastes of the New York collectors who have contributed to the Metropolitan Museum’s outstanding collection of European paintings, which the Museum takes pleasure in sharing with a new audience at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda.

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