Portland Museum of Art to focus on 'Modernism'

Posted Wednesday, April 17, 2013 in Culture

Portland Museum of Art to focus on 'Modernism'

Image credit: Henri Matisse, Seated Woman with a Vase of Narcissus, 1941, oil on canvas, 13 x 16 1/8 inches. The William S. Paley Collection.

PORTLAND — The Portland Museum of Art will be the only New England venue for an important traveling exhibition from New York's Museum of Modern Art called  The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism.

On view May 2 through Sept. 8, the show will feature 62 works from The Museum of Modern Art’s William S. Paley collection. Some of the most important artists of the period, including Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon, are among the 24 artists whose paintings, sculpture, and works on paper grace this exhibition.

William S. Paley, the media titan who built the CBS broadcasting empire, was a passionate art collector. He began collecting European art in the 1930s and amassed an extraordinary collection of modern art. At the same time, Paley became a catalytic force at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which was founded in 1929, serving variously as a patron, trustee, president, and board chairman from 1937 until his death in 1990. His leadership helped to forge the institution into one of the world’s premier museums for the display and interpretation of modern art. In one of his final and greatest acts of philanthropy, Paley donated his personal collection to MoMA. As a fitting tribute to Paley’s legacy as a collector and patron of modern art, MoMA organized The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism to share with audiences throughout North America.

The exhibition reflects Paley’s particular interest in the currents of French modernism, including Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism. Among the paintings in the exhibition are his first major acquisitions, two works by Paul Cézanne: Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat (1875–76), which Paley acquired directly from the artist’s son; and L’Estaque (1879-83), a landscape that was formerly owned by Claude Monet. There are also eight works by Pablo Picasso that trace his artistic evolution over the first three decades of the 20th century, including the masterpiece of his Rose Period, the monumental Boy Leading a Horse (1905–06), and Cubist experiments ranging from the highly faceted planes of An Architect’s Table (1912) to collage-inspired compositions such as Still Life with Guitar (1920).

Other modern masters included in the exhibition are Paul Gauguin, whose striking painting The Seed of the Areoi (1892) exemplifies the artist’s modernist interest in revitalizing Western art by taking inspiration from his experiences in the “exotic” French colony of Tahiti. Several paintings by Henri Matisse present his hallmark decorative approach to composition through the use of allover patterns, flattened colors, and compressed space. André Derain challenged the traditional dictates of representation with Fauvist landscapes such as Bridge over the Riou (1906), in which he deployed color arbitrarily — making a tree trunk blue — rather than naturalistically. The drawings and paintings of Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and George Rouault, and the sculptures of Aristide Maillol and Auguste Rodin, encompass a diverse range of stylistic approaches to the human figure.

Paley’s tastes extended beyond French modernism. A Taste for Modernism also includes examples of the realistic landscapes of American artist Edward Hopper, the surrealistic biomorphism of the Spanish artist Joan Miró, and the expressionistic distortions of Irish-born British painter Francis Bacon. While the exhibition highlights the personal vision of an individual collector, it simultaneously reflects the remarkable richness and diversity of modern art across the European and North American continents.

Advance reservations for the exhibition are recommended. There is a $5 special exhibition surcharge added to each adult admission (total cost $17). Admission is free for members.  

For more information, call (207) 775-6148 or visit portlandmuseum.org.

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