Post-Impressionist masterpieces
From the Musée D’Orsay
By Iride Aparicio
Photos Courtesy:  Musée D’ Orsay, Paris

Vincent Van Gogh  Self Portrait 1887

San Francisco, California – On September 24, at the press conference following an elegant breakfast held at the de Young Museum of San Francisco, John Buchanan, Jr. Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco introduced three honorable guests:Major Patron  of the exhibition, Diane B. Wilsey, who contributed  to bring the exhibition  to S.F,  Guy Gogeval, the President of the Musée D’Orsay in Paris, France and  Romain Serman, the Consul General of France in San Francisco. Mr. Gogeval informed the audience  that because  San Francisco is the sister city of Paris, it  will be  the only city in the  world that will  host both collections of the Musée D’Orsay, adding “Our  hope is that seeing these masterpieces makes the people happy”

After the conference,  those present were invited to visit  Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Beyond, Post Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée D’ Orsay, the second of the  two exhibitions traveling around the world.

Late Impressionists works
Spread in ten galleries, the exhibition contains 120 masterpieces representing the works of 40 artists.   The show begins with works by Claude Monet, (l840-l926)  Edgar Degas (l834-l917)  Camil Pissarro (l830-l903)  and Pierre Auguste  Renoir. (l841-l9l9).



A Dance in the Country ( Dance a la campagne) l883 by Pier Auguste Renoir


This masterpiece at the exhibition speaks to us without words. The impression that it conveys, is that of deep love on the face of the male dancer  and complete satisfaction on her part. Both look completely at ease as they dance together held in each other’s arms

The Pointillists Painters
The previous gallery is followed by a gallery showing the Pointillistic works by
Georges Seurat (l859-l891) Paul Signac (l863-l935)  and  Théo Van Rysselberghe (1862-l926)  It includes several  pictures showing the practice in art of applying small dots of color to the surface so that, from a distance, they blend together.

Early Modern Masters
Three other galleries delve into the more individualistic styles of the early modern masters: Paul Cezanne (1839-l906), Paul Gauguin (l848-l903) Henri ToulouseLautrec (l864-1901)  and Vincent Van Gogh  (l853-l890).  Pont Aven School – Nabis Painters

Later galleries focus on Gauguin and his influence of younger artists who painted as part of the Pont Aven School spanning into what are called the Nabis Painters which include:
Pierre  Bonnard (1867-1947) Emile Bernard (l868-l941)  and Jean Edouard Vuillard (l868-l940)  Further galleries explore the Nabis themes of Symbolism and Intimism.  The show concludes with room-size decorative panels designed to integrate art and beauty into domestic life.

The Birth of the term “Impressionism”
The XIX Century brought many changes to the French  painters.  Perhaps the most important one was that art works could be from now on created by “independent artists” not only by the court’s artists hired by the nobility.  The problem for these “independent” artists, however, was that to find a place to exhibit their art was almost impossible. The most difficult place to get in was “The Paris Salon” where only the best paintings were exhibited and where none of the independent artists paintings were accepted.

During the Summer of l862, when Monet, one of these artists, was 22 years old, he was invited to paint with the Dutch landcape painter Jonkind in Le Havre, a recreational park where the parisians went to bathe, and relax.  Nobody knows what Jonkind taught the young Monet, but talking about  his experience he would say later: He (Jonkind) was my true Master and it is to him that I owe the final education of my eyes.”

Between l859 and l864  Monet, along with other students: Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley and Bazile  consolidated their links with each other and  started trying new ways of painting.   Because of Monet’s experience with Jonkind, some  began painting outdoors, instead of indoors, experimenting with the phenomena of light and color.  They also started experimenting with new techniques: fast vigorous brush strokes, vivid colors and a new processes where short color strokes on the canvas, put together, would create an “Optical image” in the eyes of the spectator.

Vincent Van Gogh  Starry night  l888
This picture, one of the highlights of the exhibition,  allows us to observe how thousandths of vigorous  brush strokes of different colors shape, in the human eye,  the image of  an ocean with the city’s lights  reflected on its water, under  a starry sky.

In  l863,  the students  got  hopeful when the members of the Academy of Fine Arts and the preceding medal holders of the Paris’ Salon decided to show  works presented to them, on an annual basis.  Three thousand artists submitted their work; four thousand works got rejected. This led to the creation of another Salon: “The salon of  Refused Works.”   

Monet and his painters friends, most of them between 30 and 40 years old, spent  the years between “The Salon of Refused Works” and the war of l870 searching for their own artistic personalities. Because their successes  were few,  the effect of  their failures inspired them to continue experimenting with light, and continue experimenting  with color.

 Paul Gauguin
Areaarea. 1892

In this picture, of Women from Tahiti, called  Arearea, the Tahitian word for“joyousness,
Gauguin  domonstrates the use of  brigh colors:  reds, blues,  greens, yellows and orange, (He even painted  the dog orange)  to convey the feeling of joy .He also arranges the lines, formed by  the straight posture of the women and the tree, to convey a feeling of peace


In the process, all were discovering new styles. Discovering how  different color strokes of  the brush on the canvas would create different “Optical images” in the eyes of the spectator.

While Monet and Sisley were more or less non-intellectual and only attempted  to grasp an intuitive apprehension of the effects of light, others, like Pissarro, saw the rational analysis of the sensation of vision.  On his part, Degas  made his main concern the separateness and interrelationsips of the objects that comprise the visible world on his figure studies,    Working directly with nature, they also discovered than even  the darkest of shadows contains an infinite variety of colors. This discovery may be seen later  in the chromatic vibrancy of Monet’s canvases that according to the art critic Seitz,  helped Monet paint his best landscapes between the years l872 and l877.

Within a few years, other painters began  experimenting with the “new style” of painting..


Henri De Toulousse-Lautrec
 Redhead (Bathing) 1889


One of those painters was Toulouse-Lautrec who became famous for his depictions of the night life in Paris: cafés, bars and brothels.

In l878, at the age of 14, Toulouse-Lautrec  had suffered a fall and broke his femur (the thigh bone). A year later, he fell again and broke the femur of the other leg.  Because his legs did not heal properly, his legs stopped growing but his torso developed normally leaving the man permanently deformed.

When he decided to study art, he moved to Paris  and enrolled in the school of ‘Beaux-Arts. While studying, he stayed out most of the night  visiting  the cabarets in Montmartre specially the Moulin Rouge where he moved freely among the artists and the prostitutes.


In the above painting, the Red Head , belonging  to the  Early Masters Period, one can obseve the juxtaposition of  the school of Realism: and  Impressionism.  The setting of the  picture is indoors. The shape of the girl’s  figure was not altered.. Both the wick chairs on the girl’s left and right,  have been depicted with exactitude and the picture has perspective.  All these details adhere to the  school of Realism.  Yet  if we observe the woman’s skirt, we notice that  Toulouse-Lautrec used  horizontal and vertical white and grey strokes of a brush  to create  the girl’s  skirt, and dark gray lines to create the girls’s skirt folds. A technique similar to  Van Gogh’s in  his Starry Night” painted just a year before.  Toulouse  also used a series of grey brush lines to create the effect of light and shadow in the girls back. 

In the meantime, Georges Seurat, after a year of military service in Brest  returned to Paris, where he concentrated in drawings and exhibited two of his painting at the Salon in l883. The next year, however, his great painting, La Baignade was rejected. This prompted him to found the Sociéte des Artistes Indépendants. (The Society of independent artists) with Paul Signac.
As Seurat continued experimenting with light and color, he adopted  a new  method of  painting  which uses tiny dots of pure color to achieve a blended optical effect. This method was c Pointillism.

Georges Seurat
Model in Profile (Poseuse de profil) l887

This is a big painting, so we can  observe it carefully  at the exhibition. When we do, we notice  that the creamy-color of  the  nude’s body appears to be painted without  lines to delineate it.  It is emphasized only by the contrasting effects of shadows and light.  In the picture, her skin looks very smooth and the painting give us the feeling that we are looking at her through a transparent curtain made of  a myriad of different-color dots. The effect is marvelous. 

The exhibition concludes with several decorative room size panels painted by the Nabi Painters of the Pont Aven  School.  Smbolism and Intimism.

By many, Monet  is recognized as the founder of the Impressionism movement because it was one of his sketches: Impression: Sunrise, Which he painted and exhibited in l872,  which gave the movement  its name.  The  title of the painting indicated clearly  that it was not completed, that it was only a sketch.  The name Impressionism was adopted later on  to define the new sketchy-looking  style of  painting. . Impressionist paintings are considered now the most attractive paintings in the history of art.


For information to the exhibit go to  or call (415) 750-3600