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Restored works part of Impressionism show

Exhibit allows reintroduction of particular paintings

Exhibit allows reintroduction of particular paintings

January 12, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN ? Light and color are the heart and soul of French Impressionism.

Sun-streaked landscapes, blooming gardens, scenes of stillness and solitude make for some of the best brush strokes on canvas.

Over the years, Impressionism has become one of the most popular bodies of European art.

But that wasn't always the case.

In the late 19th century, a stylistic rebellion was waged by artists such as Monet, Renoir and Cezanne, who reinvented their profession by taking the act of painting out of the studio and into the world.

Abandoning the formal rules of academics and critics, they offered beautiful glimpses of everyday life, emphasizing the play of light, vibrant palettes and unusual visual angles.

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For the most part, they were scorned by the traditional art world. But Impressionism appealed to the masses, and the number of painters embracing this new art form began to grow.

This revolutionary way of looking at landscapes and scenes of leisure resonated in a distant land ? America, where painters began traveling across the ocean to learn more about this new art style.

Soon, they blended the European approach with techniques of their own and American Impressionism was born.

A new exhibition focusing on some of the pioneers of this genre opened Saturday at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

The exhibit, "Impressionist Views: The Genteel Age," is comprised of 22 pieces of art, including paintings and sculptures.

It is free and open to the public and will continue through April 6.

Most of the works are from the museum's Permanent Collection, curatorial coordinator Jennifer Smith said.

Some of the paintings previously have been on display and will be recognizable to frequent visitors to the museum, Smith said.

But others are being reintroduced.

"An exciting aspect of this exhibit is that several of our paintings are making their debut after being conserved through our Adopt-A-Painting program," Smith said.

Under this program, museum supporters agree to underwrite the costs of conserving particular works of art in the Permanent Collection.

"We would have loved to have had these paintings on display, but because of their condition, it wasn't possible," Smith said. "Visitors will have a chance to see them for the first time during this show."

Landscapes and portraits are the primary focus of the exhibition, and highlight the impact American artists had on the larger scope of Impressionism, Smith said.

American Impressionism began in the late 19th century, and continued past the turn of the century, she said.

"It was called the Genteel Age because it was a more refined or gentle period," Smith said. "It was a time when American art really began to blossom and come into its own."

It also was a time of prosperity in this country, she said, and many wealthy individuals wanted to fill their lavish homes with artwork, emulating European aristocracy.

"Sometimes, they paid an artist to travel to Europe to bring back art," Smith said. "Sometimes, they even paid them to study art abroad and be their personal painter."

Artists traveling to Europe were widely influenced by French Impressionism, Smith said. They brought that influence back to America, creating schools and art communities.

Smith said the museum exhibition includes a number of prominent American Impressionists, including Childe Hassam, a founding member of "The Ten," a group of important American Impressionist painters who broke away from the more academic art traditions of America.

Other featured artists include Eugene Vail, Kenyon Cox, Ernest Lawson and Willard Metcalf, a close friend of Mrs. and Mrs. William Henry Singer, founders of the museum.

Among those attending the opening of the exhibit on Saturday was Greta Mayes of Hagerstown.

Mayes said she never has studied art history, but considers herself "an art browser."

"I love all kinds of paintings, but I especially enjoy Impressionism," she said. "There's something very inviting about this style."

"You can look at an Impressionist painting and imagine being there," said Reeda Stottlemyer of Hagerstown, an employee of the museum who took time Saturday to enjoy the exhibit. "You're drawn into the canvas."

Impressionists were known for breaking the artistic rules of their era, Stottlemyer added.

"But there's something pleasurable about looking at a painting that's not quite perfect," Stottlemyer said.

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