Tuesday, February 2

Magpie sighting — the Impressionists are here ...

Ever since our good friend willow of Life at Willow Manner formally declared herself a magpie and a practitioner of magpiety, I have been on the lookout for that preeminent scavenger of the avian world. Happily enough, I soon spotted my very first one, perched atop a rickety wooden fence gate, contemplating the sunny snow-blanketed countryside on the coast of Normandy in Etretat  …

Well, I wasn't actually there, but did make the sighting through this 1869 painting by Claude Monet, The Magpie, currently on view at the Fundación Mapfre in Madrid.

The snowy scene is part of the wonderful “From Manet to Impressionism: A Modern Renaissance” show which opened in mid-January and will be gracing Madrid’s magnificent "museum mile" until April 22nd. Apparently, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, home to the world’s greatest Impressionism collection, is partly closed to undergo major works before it reopens to celebrate its 25th anniversary in March 2011. So the museum has now arranged for many of its essential works to leave Paris, some for the first time. A good 90 or more are on view in the Madrid show (fresh in from Australia before moving on to San Francisco). This unique and perhaps never to be repeated opportunity includes works by Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Bazille, Millet, Renoir, Rousseau, Sisley, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others.

Obviously, the show is a joy and deserves a book. I am sure I will post more on a few of the masterpieces that I found especially striking. But today and in future posts (because this has become rather too long) I wanted to discuss this lonely magpie. The painting caught my eye immediately, although I have to confess that when I first glimpsed it from a distance, I thought I was seeing a Sisley (who is also well represented in the show with his own snowscape).

Claude Monet (shown to the right in a portrait by Renoir which is also part of the Madrid exhibit) painted The Magpie between 1868 and 1869, and it is widely considered one of the first Impressionist paintings, although it predates the first Impressionist show and the very name by five years (one of the names these painters were using amongst themselves was 'the Intransigents'). He submitted the work to the Académie des Beaux-Arts to be exhibited at the 1869 Paris Salon, but it was rejected. The Paris Salon was the all-powerful arbiter of official taste and had by that time begun making a routine of rejecting the daring new works by a group of artists that had not yet been dubbed Impressionists – Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, Pissarro.

Indeed it was the Salon's 1863 rejection of Edouard Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass — shown below), along with works by many other artists, and the ensuing controversy, that would come to mark a turning point of sorts. The Salon expressed its refusal to accept Luncheon on the Grass in rather abrasive terms, in large part focused on the impropriety of depicting a nude woman in other than a historical or mythological context and, even more vexingly, in the casual company of two clothed men. Manet began to explore other opportunities and became a rallying point and inspiration for the small but committed group of artists who would give the world the Impressionist movement in the years that followed. The Madrid exhibit begins and ends with Manet, highlighting his role as the first and prime mover for the group and an important early source of leadership, encouragement and even economic support.

Something was already astir in the Parisian art world, as evidenced by the fact that the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused or Rejects), which Emperor Napoleon III decreed be held in 1863 as a show for the unusually large number of paintings rejected by the Académie that year, actually drew more visitors than the regular Salon.

Since this is becoming a rather long post, I will break here and return to our magpie in part 2 in the days to come. I will close by embedding below a brief video (in English) on the exhibit. Enjoy ...


  1. Lorenzo ~ How wonderful ~ I saw a magpie in Colorado a couple of weeks ago ~ It was my first!! It was quite rounded and larger than I would have anticipated ~ I suppose winter plumage and breath ~

    Have you read "The Private lives of the Impressionists", by Sue Roe? It offered me inspiration as a human being creating art ~ as well as a fresh perception of those artists qualified as Impressionists ~ this, after a more formal understanding of them, in the context of my art history studies in university.

    Thank you for the 'look back~forward' Lorenzo!

    ~ MC ~

  2. This particular magpie loved this post! I had the good fortune to see Monet's "The Magpie" in person at The Chicago Institute of Art, back in the '90s at a huge traveling show of his work. It's stunning in person. The snow is lucient and glowing. Super post, LLL, loaded with magpiety.

  3. Hi, MC. Thanks for the book recommendation. I have not read Sue Roe's book, but will put it on my list. I am currently engrossed in "Renoir, My Father", recollections of the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir by his son, filmmaker and playwright Jean Renoir. It is beautiful and I recommend it.

  4. Hi, 'magpietous' willow -- there will be much more on this painting. I was really taken by it. Love your description of the 'lucient' snow.

  5. Great post. I'm not sure if I've ever seen Renoir's Monet portrait, excellent!

  6. I can't think of a more lovely theme than Monet and magpies. (Perhaps because this ladrón always enjoyed "La gazza ladra".) I look forward to part two.

  7. Yes, Ladrón, I guess there's a touch of larceny in magpies and junk thieves ...

  8. I think they should have stuck with "Intransigents" - has a more rebellious flavor to it - Lorenzo, glad you are enjoying Vernadoe's ideas and thanks for your comments.

  9. Hi Suzanne: In "Renoir, My Father", Jean Renoir says that the painter did not like the term "impressionists". It was in fact first applied to them after what has come to be known as the first Impressionist salon of 1874. It was coined quite derisively by a critic, taking his cue from Monet's Impression of a Sunset. Despite this inauspicious start, the truth is that I like the term "impressionism" because it does seem to speak to what strikes me as one of the cardinal features of their approach to art, namely, the emphasis on perception instead of on description, on conveying a momentary glimpse of nature instead of telling a story, on capturing an ephemeral impression instead of striving for epic immortalization. But anyway, that is for future posts ...

  10. I would so love to see this. I have a real need right now to collect with some Impressuonist masters. And since Manet's early Impressionist work was strongly monochromatic it's a nice tie-in to the magpie (OK -- maybe that's pushing it...:). Very sad that we don't have magpies out here (I guess the bossy Steller's Jay is the closest thing) but I love seeing them when I go to Alberta. I based this drawing on a photo I took last time: http://www.flickr.com/photos/didrooglie/3438182959/

  11. Andrea, thanks for posting the link to your drawing. Very nice. we should pass it on to willow


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