PORTLAND — The Normandy Coast — with its dramatic seaside cliffs, picturesque villages and busy ports — was an artistic magnet for French and American painters of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Realists. Impressionists. Cubists. Surrealists. They all traveled to the northern coast of France to take in its landscape, its people and the sea.
The Normandy Coast is the focus of the Portland Museum of Art's major summer exhibit showcasing 43 works of European and American art, mostly oil paintings, from PMA's holdings as well as museums and private collections across the country.
The exhibition of works done between 1860 and 1960 is breathtaking.
Among the major artists featured are Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Marcel Duchamp, Raul Dufy, George Inness, Maximilien Luce, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Camille Pissaro, Yves Tanguy and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
"The Draw of the Normandy Coast, 1860-1960," on exhibit through Sept. 3, was inspired by Monet's masterful landscape painting "La Manneporte Vu en Aval (The Manneporte Seen from Below)." This depiction of the natural arched formation of land at Etretat, done circa 1884, is on loan to the PMA by prominent art collectors Isabelle and Scott Black. It is an impressive example of Monet's signature emphasis on lighting and his use of soft-edged lines to create suggested images.
The painting faces the entrance to the gallery and sets the tone for the exhibit, which also features three other Monet paintings of this scene on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Artwork in the exhibit is displayed on walls painted an intense shade of blue, complementing the paintings and helping to bring out as a sense of the sea.
One of the most beautiful works is “Temps d’Orage a Etretat” ("Stormy Weather at Stretat"), an oil on canvas, done by Courbet in 1869, from the PMA's Joan Whitney Payson Collection. A powerful piece, Courbet captures the natural grandeur and full force of the sea as waves crash against the rugged cliffs of Normandy.
By contrast a subtle watercolor, “Cliffs at Etretat,” done by Portland native Samuel Coleman in 1873, is less dramatic and offers a quiet view of the sea in that location.
The exhibit contains many works by Eugene-Louis Boudin, including a small gem of a painting titled “Scene de Plage aux Environs de Trouville.” An oil on panel, it depicts the social life on the shores of Normandy during the Victorian Age.
Other wonderful works include "Fenetre Ouverte Etretat,” by Matisse; “The Jetty at Le Havre, High Tide, Morning Sun,” by Pissarro; and “The Passerby,” by Albert Marquet.
Paul Strand's beautiful photograph of his artist friend, titled “Georges Braque, Varangeville, France Series: portfolio Four 1957,” represents those who visited and created on the Normandy Coast. It underscores the importance of photography as an art form.
An unusual and lovely work is Tanguy's "Sans Titre,” an untitled oil on canvas done in surrealistic style.
Among the major museums contributing works to this must-see exhibit are the Bowdoin College Museum of Art; National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn.; Museum of Fine Arts Boston; and Smith College Museum in Northampton, Mass.
The PMA is at Seven Congress Square. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, Oct. 8.
Admission: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors/students with I. D. and $6 for youth 13 to 17; children under 12, free. Admission is free from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday.
Pat Davidson Reef has a master’s degree in education and has taught art history at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland. She has written two children’s books, “Dahlov Ipcar, Artist,” and “Bernard Langlais, Sculptor.”