Light shimmers throughout the 40 masterpieces in the “Landscapes From the Age of Impressionism” exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art, emphasizing their sense of elegance and tranquility.

Featured among the works from the Brooklyn Museum in New York are such famous European and American painters as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gustave Courbet, Alfred Sisley, John Henry Twachtman, Theodore Robinson, John Singer Sargent, Frederick Childe Hassam and Jules Breton.

Intent on capturing the changing effects of light on a subject, Impressionists painted with short brush strokes of pure color, creating suggestions of images, rather than hard, exact lines.

When you walk into the first-floor galleries, you feel the excitement of that use of color, and the harmonious energy of soft blurred lines in the works of these artists. You are swept away from this world filled with chaos and anger into the romantic world of the 19th century where nature was king and beauty was quietly suggested.

To showcase the masterpieces of Impressionism, the PMA painted the gallery walls a rich burgundy, which sets off the paintings and brings out the colors in each of them. Each of the paintings is displayed in an ornate gold frame true to that period.

Born in France in the early 1860s, the Impressionist movement was a clear departure form the Renaissance tradition of balanced composition and idealized figures of famous saints, aristocracy, and royalty.

Impressionists were captivated by light and its changing qualities as seen in nature and in objects. Their main goal was to capture the immediate moment, an impression. Their subjects were color, light, nature and the average person doing everyday things such as eating or drinking in a cafe, watering flowers, walking down a road or returning home from work.

The term Impressionism came about as a result of an art critic unimpressed by a work done by Monet in the 1870s titled “Impression, sunrise.” He described the piece as unfinished, just an impression. However, the style emerged into an all-important international art movement celebrating the joys of everyday life and the beauty of nature in landscapes.

After selecting a subject, Monet, known as the Father of Impressionism, would, according to the PMA, position himself before it for hours over a series of days, if not months, substituting one canvas for another as dictated by changing lighting and atmospheric effects, and producing a series of works devoted to the same subject under different conditions.

Many American painters traveled to Paris and surrounding towns, attended French art academies and visited locations made famous by early Impressionists.

Not surprisingly two of the most outstanding works in the exhibit are by Monet. They are titled “Rising tide at Pourville” (1882) and “Vernon, Soleil” (Vernon in the Sun) (1894).

Courbet’s oil painting titled “The Wave,” created in 1869, is breathtaking. It radiates the power of nature.

Hassam’s “Poppies on the Isles of Shoals,” done in 1890, is a magnificent example of an American artist exploring Impressionism. His suggestion of bright red and white flowers growing naturally near the rocks overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is refreshing and uplifting.

“On the Heights,” an oil painting by Charles Courtney Curran, also an American, depicts three women sitting outdoors, looking like the Gibson Girl of the Victorian Age. Curran focuses on the light as it hits their strong but delicate faces.

In two of his works in the exhibit, American Theodore Robinson captures a woman getting ready to water her garden (“The Watering Pots,” 1890) and a woman reading on a grassy slope overlooking a waterway (“La Roche-Guyon”).

Breton’s “The End of the Working Day,” 1886-87, is magnificent. It depicts women walking home at twilight after a day of working in the fields. Twachtman’s “Reflection” and Sargent’s “Val D’Aosta” and Willard Leroy Metcalf’s “Early Spring Afternoon, Central Park” are also a special treat to see.

My favorite work in the exhibit is “The Vineyard at Cagnes,” by Renoir, an oil on canvas created in 1908. Its soft lines and muted colors create a feeling of tranquility and peace. It depicts a young girl reading a book (or perhaps a letter) under a tree in the French countryside. It is uplifting, soothing and visually appealing.

“Landscapes From the Age of Impressionism” will be showing at the PMA through Jan. 4. Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Admission: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with I.D, $4 for youth ages 6-17; children under 6 free of charge. Admission is free 5 to 9 p.m. 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.” She teaches children’s literature for teacher recertification for the American Institute for Creative Education.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.