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Oh Là Là!

Cummer’s summer exhibition stars Monet and Matisse

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No need to travel this summer to see excellent fine art. French Moderns: Monet to Matisse, 1850-1950, at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, features more than 60 pieces of mid-19th to mid-20th century French art on loan from the Brooklyn Museum. Monet, Renoir, Cézanne and Degas are all in town and you simply must stop by to see them.

“It goes without saying that so many of the movements that are identified with or are a part of this exhibition—Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Symbolism in particular—are fan favorites. Even if people don’t recognize those styles, they recognize the names associated with them: Monet, Matisse, Manet, Degas, Cézanne, etc. All of them are represented in this show,” says Adam Levine, Cummer director and CEO. “It’s an exciting opportunity to see blockbuster names [that] complement the Cummer’s holdings, and [see visitors] draw connections to some of the works that we have in our permanent collection.”

As you tour the exhibit, you’re met by Claude Monet’s famous 1882 waterscape, Rising Tide at Pourville. Churning, white-capped waves of the English Channel crash against the coastline of Normandy in an Impressionist ballet of color and light effects as a stone hut stands sentry on the cliff. One of the most recognizable paintings in the collection, it was selected to be featured on the billboard.

There’s no prescribed route through the exhibition. The drawings, paintings and sculptures range in scale, subject matter and style, and one can discern several distinct themes: landscapes, portraits and figures, still lifes, and nudes. The works of 49 artists are featured in this collection. It’s a quiet thrill to be in the presence of a notable painting or sculpture which previously you’ve seen only on the printed page of a coffee-table art book. You’ll likely discover a new favorite.

Levine’s favorite piece is by a lesser-known Hungarian artist who studied in Paris for three years and helped introduce the Modernist Movement to his home country. “[He] was very famous in Paris before he ended up moving back to Hungary,” Levine says. The artist is Jozsef Rippl-Rónai; his work is Woman with Three Girls. “It’s this absolutely gorgeous scene which has this sort of flattened canvas. It’s a genre of Symbolism, acknowledging the flatness of the canvas. If you compare this to a ‘realistic painting,’ [in which] you’re trying to create a scene that looks like you’re looking through a window and trying to create a natural perspective—that’s not what this artist is trying to do. But it has these bright, vibrant colors, this tablecloth that’s saturated red. It pops against the vegetative green background with pink flowers. Three girls off to one side, engaging with a woman dressed in triangles of white. Somehow it all coheres into a figural narrative. It’s right at the edge of abstraction and it’s just a beautiful, engaging work. It is hung on a wall which has a nice, offsetting purple color. I hope audiences won’t respond to just the work, but to what I think is a really beautiful installation.”

The collection captures the vibrant, complex Parisian art world, encompassing the period from the 1848 Revolution through World War II. Visitors will be face-to-face with works by Pierre Bonnard, Gustave Caillebotte, Marc Chagall, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Berthe Morisot, Odilon Redon, Auguste Rodin, Édouard Vuillard and others. Each piece has a unique story and invites the viewer to ponder its path to the Brooklyn Museum’s collection, then to the Cummer. A fully illustrated accompanying catalogue discusses each work.

The Cummer wants visitors to thoroughly engage with the French Moderns through themed art classes and workshops suitable for all ages throughout the summer. A children’s area is situated just off the exhibition, inviting young artists to construct an impressionist-themed puzzle, participate in a conversation-starter activity, or practice their portraiture skills. Colorful umbrellas suspended from the ceiling of the Impressionist pop-up store delight and invite. “We have made every effort to make this a family experience,” Levine says. “We want everyone who visits the museum to bring their families, to bring their kids of all ages. We intentionally constructed experiences that will thrill each of them. By taking kids to the museum and engaging them with works of art, you’re teaching them history. You’re enhancing educational outcomes. And more than anything, you’re creating better people and you’re creating a better world.”

“It’s a complement to our collection, and once this exhibition is gone, you won’t be able to see a painting by Monet [in Jacksonville]. You have until Sept. 8, so if you want to see some of the greatest works of art by some of the greatest artists ever, this is your opportunity,” Levine says. “Exhibitions are opportunities for people who may not regularly engage with museums to do so. If you haven’t been to the Cummer in a while, I encourage you to visit. What I think you will find is an institution, building off so much great work done over many years, which is continuing to open itself up, continuing to diversify its collection and diversify its audiences. It’s engaging the community in authentic and holistic ways. What people will see when they come to the Cummer is a museum that is radically and relentlessly oriented toward quality, that’s actively making itself as accessible as possible, and is committed to making sure the experience is fun for everyone. It has changed and it’s continuing to change. I think people will love what they see.”

Monet and his contemporaries are in town for only a few more weeks, so get thee to the Cummer and immerse yourself in this stunning exhibition of fine art—without having to travel the globe.

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