Monet to Matisse – The Unseen Side of Impressionism

By: Laura Weyman, Travel Editor

Claude Monet is back at The Jepson Center for the Arts, but this time, the rest of the impressionist gang traveled along with him.

Thanks to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens of Memphis, Tenn., we have the opportunity to witness the works of some of the most influential artists of the 19th and 20th century, such as Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Paul Cézanne.

As the Jepson Center tour guide, Carey Daughtry stated, “This is the first time in Savannah a wide range of exalted artists have been shown.”

Most of the paintings are not what you would expect of these artists.

When you think of Gauguin, you mostly likely imagine Tahitian women sitting cross legged by a body of water and the juxtaposition created by his bold use of primary colors.

However, the only resemblance between his most famous work and “Bathing in Front of the Port of Pont-Aven” (the Gauguin painting that is part of this exhibit), is that half-clothed humans are hanging out by a shore.

The color palette is drastically different–it’s entirely composed of pastels. The thick outlines that are typical in his later work, are nonexistent in this piece.

Another striking painting is, “Ballet Scene,” by Degas. Degas is famous for his compositions of the ballet world of 19th and 20th century, and most hold an airy and light quality.

The moments he typically captured took place during the day, in a well-lit studio, while groups of ballerinas rehearsed.

In contrast, this piece is composed of dark variations of red—an acidic color palette. Unlike his other works, it portrays only one single ballerina performing on stage.

The overall feel of this painting is haunting—the ballerina almost seems disfigured and as if she is in the midst of collapsing.

Although this is an unusual depiction for Degas, it more closely captures his true feelings about the world of ballet and the conditions ballerinas endured during that time.

As Carey Daughtry said during a tour of the exhibition, “Dancers were not the trained, academic dancers of today.” Ballerinas lived in extreme poverty and often resorted to selling their bodies in order to survive.

According to Daughtry, Degas was an extremely prejudiced man—he was an anti-Semitic and had an overall high and mighty attitude.

Daughtry stated, “Degas loved dance but detested dancers”—he thought of them as low lives.

Overall, this exhibition shows an unseen side of the impressionists we thought we knew so well.

If you venture into the Jepson Center, you will have a chance to see Matisse before Matisse (when he actually painted impressionist landscapes), and one of the paintings Monet sent to the private exhibition in Paris, where the term “impressionist” was coined, and the impressionism movement was born.

These works will be exhibited until February 10, 2019. The Jepson Center is open seven days a week and offers student discounts!