Little Things

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De Dreux's "Return from the Race Course"

De Dreux's "Return from the Race Course"

It was a very artsy summer for Oklahoma Today. In addition to getting the newest issue of the magazine delivered to our offices, featuring a striking cover with Matthew Bearden’s painting Hump (on display at The Oklahoma Judicial Center), our team was dispatched to both the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.

While Nathan Gunter got the plum assignment of spending a day alone in the Philbrook (check out his excellent blog A Day At The Philbrook Is Exactly What You Needhere), I was allowed to visit the new Van Gogh, Monet, Degas: The Mellon Collection of French Art from The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts exhibit at OKCMOA.

It’s always a joy to see works by renowned artists up close and in person, but I was especially struck by a phenomena experienced by so many visitors to the Louvre who see Mona Lisa: “It’s so small.”

That’s part of the point of the Mellon Collection, so much so that the intro text on the wall makes it clear that, to Paul Mellon, “small is beautiful.”

“My own feeling is that size has nothing to do with the quality or the importance of a work of art, just as preliminary drawings or sketches in oil or pastel often have an immediacy and an emotional appeal far greater than the final canvas.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's "At the Bar"

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's "At the Bar"

Walk through the exhibit and you’ll understand immediately that while the Mellons had great eyes for art, they were equally taken with the stories behind the art. Their interests drove them to pieces that might not have been considered by other collectors—they loved horse racing, gardening, Paris—and it makes for a fascinating compilation.

Return from the Race Course by Pierre Alfred De Dreux is one of the most striking images in the exhibit’s entrance, showing a little-seen part of the horse-racing world in vivid detail.

Édouard Manet is a well-known name in Modernist painting and helped usher in an age of impressionist painters, but what about Berthe Morisot? She was Manet’s sister-in-law and a pretty deft hand with a paintbrush, as well.

Édouard Manet's "On the Beach, Boulogne-sur-Mer"

Édouard Manet's "On the Beach, Boulogne-sur-Mer"

It’s a treat, then, so see Manet’s 1869 work On the Beach, Boulogne-sur-Mer next to Morisot’s 1873 painting On the Beach—one of three she made during a vacation to Les Petites Dalles, near Fécamp, in Normandy.

“It is thought that Manet’s On the Beach, Boulogne-sur-Mer may have been the inspiration behind the panoramic format, color palette, and subject matter of Morisot's On the Beach,” says OKCMOA assistant curator Jessica Provencher.

Berthe Morisot's "On the Beach"

Berthe Morisot's "On the Beach"

There’s something deeply instructional about looking at their paintings side by side. Art is often seen as a solitary pursuit, but artists were (and still are) a community. Some were friends. Some were rivals. But the work they did could scarcely help but be influenced by the creations of their peers.

Provencher says she has a few favorites among the more-than-seventy pieces of art in the Van Gogh, Monet, Degas: The Mellon Collection of French Art from The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts exhibit.

“The first would be At the Bar (ca. 1886) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,” she says. “Toulouse-Lautrec is best known for capturing the bustling nightlight of Montmartre’s 19th-century dance halls, cabarets, and theaters. The dark and grimy atmosphere of At the Bar is really a testament to the artist’s capability to convey, with very few details, the appearance and ambiance of Montmartre’s bars and their inhabitants.”

Maurice de Vlaminck's "Sailing Boat, Chatou"

Maurice de Vlaminck's "Sailing Boat, Chatou"

She also encourages visitors to spend some time with Maurice de Vlaminck's impressionist piece Sailing Boat, Chatou from 1906.

“The individual elements of the scene—the water and the boat, the red-roofed houses, and the trees—are all discernible, but, at close range, the bold colors and vigorous brushstrokes replace the landscape as subject,” Provencher says. “I like that you can see the individual brushstrokes as well as his heavy layering of paint, which really makes the paint look like it's still wet.”

It isn’t a struggle to ask museum-goers to take a look at Van Gogh’s The Wheat Field behind St. Paul's Hospital, St. Rémy, but she urges visitors to slow down and spend some time with the 1889 painting. Fans of Van Gogh’s work will find extra significance in the technique and subject matter of the piece.

Vincent Van Gogh's "The Wheat Field behind St. Paul's Hospital, St. Rémy"

Vincent Van Gogh's "The Wheat Field behind St. Paul's Hospital, St. Rémy"

“I particularly enjoy his swirling brushstrokes in the clouds,” she says. “The brushwork is very similar to that in his famous Starry Night painting, which was painted the same year and at the same hospital as The Wheat Field.”

Van Gogh, Monet, Degas: The Mellon Collection of French Art from The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art through Sept. 22. For a list of events related to the exhibit, including ticketed tours with museum staff, visit okcmoa.com/visit/events/vangogh.

Written By
Greg Elwell

Greg worked for newspapers, medical research organizations, and government institutions before he joined *Oklahoma Today* as research editor in 2018. He also is the publisher of the website I Ate Oklahoma.

Greg Elwell
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