Not Colorful, but Show Is Striking

Posted October 2, 2009 at 3:14pm

Forget light, forget color, forget spontaneity: A new show at the National Gallery of Art provides viewers with works that are the antithesis of Impressionism.

The exhibit, “The Darker Side of Light: Arts of Privacy, 1850-1900,— curated by Peter Parshall, focuses mostly on print drawings — with a handful of sculpture and painting mixed in.

According to Parshall, he chose pieces that contrast sharply with the dominant artistic movement associated with the period — Impressionism.

“Impressionism, by its own determination, was an art that was concerned with literally impression — with the impact and impression of light reflecting off of surfaces,— Parshall said. “My intent here is to demonstrate that Impressionism exists against a larger foil of art that was being produced that tells a very different kind of story.—

As a result, Parshall has assembled a group of pieces that reflect more complicated themes like cities, animals, obsession, death and violence. Pieces from renowned painters such as Edvard Munch sit next to artists such as Mary Cassatt in an international mélange of darker, anti-Impressionistic works. Also of note is an etching done by Victor Hugo — known better for his literary talents, but who also had an artistic career.

“People have complicated lives, they have interior lives, they live through tormented times — and the second half of the 19th century was a very fraught period throughout Europe,— Parshall said. “Not surprisingly, there is another dimension to the art of this period.—

Also opening at the National Gallery is an exhibit containing 135 pieces taken from its own collection, “Renaissance to Revolution: French Drawings from the National Gallery of Art, 1500-1800.—

Curated by Morgan Grasselli, head of the department of old master drawings, the exhibit focuses on drawing, tracing the evolution of drafting as an art form in France. The works on display span from extravagant, elaborate drawings produced at the court of Francois I at Fontainebleau in the 16th century to the development of the rococo style during the reign of Louis XV to the birth of the neoclassical style around the time of the French Revolution.

According to Grasselli, the heart of the collection is the gallery’s 18th-century drawings, such as works by Francois Boucher and Jean-Baptiste Deshays.

Both exhibitions open today and run through January 2010.