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).
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 ...