Turner to Cézanne
Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales
October 9, 2009 - January 3, 2010
Turner to Cézanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales is drawn from an extraordinary group of 260 nineteenth- and early twentieth-century paintings assembled largely between 1908 and 1923 by sisters Margaret and Gwendoline Davies. The exhibition speaks volumes about taste, patronage, and philanthropy. The fifty-three works included here also present a survey of modern art, from Turner’s Romantic naturalism to Cézanne’s modern aesthetic innovations. The exhibition is also a reminder of the value of creativity, and of persistence, as many of the artists were, at first, either misunderstood or scorned. Painters once rejected, like the Impressionists, are now in the pantheon of the world’s most popular artists.
Margaret and Gwendoline Davies inherited their father’s fortune, drawn from the coal and transportation industries, in the early 1900s. Having been raised in environment steeped in arts and culture, the sisters cultivated an interest in art from an early age. While their initial purchases were rather conservative, favoring established artists such as Joseph Mallord William Turner, Barbizon painter Camille Corot, and Academic master Ernest Meissonier, they quickly fell under the spell of art of the vanguard. They purchased works by Jean-François Millet that illustrate the elevation of scenes of modern life to a prominence formally reserved for subjects like portraiture, history, and religious painting. They had a particular fondness for Honoré Daumier’s acutely observed depictions of Parisian life. Their collection, as illustrated in this exhibition, sets the context for the arrival of the Impressionists on the scene in the 1870s.
Impressionism forms the core of Turner to Cézanne. As seen in Monet’s Waterlilies, the Davies sisters favored his later works, in which color, light, and textured brushstrokes combine to form a poetic abstraction that marks the apex of Impressionism. Their interest in Monet was unique among British collectors and placed them in the ranks of other visionary collectors in the United States and Europe. Cézanne’s landscapes present another interpretation of the Impressionist landscape, one based on geometry and structure rather than poetry. Finally, Manet’s view of the Seine in Argenteuil illustrates the Impressionists’ direct response to their surroundings, with belching smoke as important a part of the landscape as the boats.
Alongside these landscapes, the exhibition includes works that reflect Impressionism’s emphasis on contemporary life, from the hustle and bustle Pissarro captured in Paris on a wintry day to Renoir’s dazzling life-size canvas, La Parisienne. The exhibition culminates with several Post-Impressionist works, including paintings by Pierre Bonnard and Vincent van Gogh, and modern British masters, such as Augustus John and Walter Sickert, they inspired.
Turner to Cézanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales is organized by American Federation of Arts and National Museum Wales. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
The Everson Museum of Art thanks its generous sponsors for making this exhibition possible.