This spring, March 27 – June 22, Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena, presents an installation of three paintings from the Musée d’Orsay’s renowned collection of Impressionist art. Organized by Chief Curator Carol Togneri with Associate Curator Emily Beeny, the installation features Édouard Manet’s Emile Zola, 1868, James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, 1871 (also known as Portrait of the Artist’s Mother), and Paul Cézanne’s Card Players, 1892–96. The Orsay paintings are hanging together in the Norton Simon Museum’s 19th-century wing, alongside paintings from the Simon collection by Manet, Cézanne and their peers. A series of lectures, tours, films, and family programs are offered in conjunction with the installation.
“We are extremely honored to forge this special exchange with the esteemed Musée d’Orsay, the preeminent institution in the world for 19th- and early 20th-century art,” says Norton Simon Museum President Walter W. Timoshuk. “Visitors to the Norton Simon will come face to face with three of the most beloved works from the Orsay’s peerless collection—in particular Whistler’s iconic portrait of his mother, which has visited Los Angeles only once before, very briefly, in the early 1930s. And we are delighted that this exchange will allow us to share with the Orsay’s visitors three highlights from our own 19th-century collection, works by Renoir, Van Gogh and Vuillard, that rarely leave Pasadena.”
It is perhaps the single most recognizable image in the history of American painting: the spare interior of an artist’s studio, a gray wall, a Japanese curtain, an aging subject soberly dressed and seated in profile. Whistler’s portrait of his mother, painted in the fall of 1871, marks the high point of his career. “It is rare,” says Whistler’s friend, the painter Jacques-Émile Blanche, “that one can judge an artist by a single work.” Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, also known as Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, is that single work. Endlessly reproduced, imitated and parodied, the picture nonetheless resists any fixed interpretation. Given the painting’s iconic status in American culture, the fact that Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 resides not in the United States but in France may come as a surprise. Acquired by the French state in 1891 after a vigorous campaign by admirers including the painter Claude Monet and the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, Arrangement hung first at the Louvre, and then moved to the Musée d’Orsay when it opened in 1986.
Manet’s portrait of Zola depicts a sitter intimately known to the artist. This portrait of Zola is overflowing with tokens of friendship. Zola was still making a name for himself as a journalist in 1866 when he published a glowing newspaper article on Manet. In his article, Zola praised the frank modernity of Manet’s style, which had made the painter a divisive figure and, indeed, a frequent object of ridicule on the Paris art scene. One year later, when jury members for the Paris World’s Fair deemed Manet’s submissions too radical, the painter erected a pavilion on the edge of the fairgrounds where visitors could judge his work for themselves. His co-conspirator in this guerilla exhibition was none other than Zola, who re-published his article as a booklet titled Une nouvelle manière en peinture (A New Manner in Painting) on the occasion. To show his gratitude, Manet painted the writer’s portrait in January 1868. Depicting Zola as a connoisseur and scholar, Manet surrounded him with both art and books.
Of the whole Impressionist group, Cézanne was the least understood by his contemporaries. Stung by the unusually harsh criticism that greeted his work at the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877, Cézanne effectively withdrew from public exhibition for nearly 20 years, reemerging in a series of shows mounted by the progressive dealer Ambroise Vollard, when Cézanne came to be appreciated at last as the father of modern art. After his withdrawal from the public eye, Cézanne began to spend more time in the South of France, on his family’s property outside of Aix. There he focused on local landscapes, kitchen still lifes and a narrow cast of domestic models. The Card Players, painted between about 1892 and 1896, belongs to this last category, representing two workers seated at a table playing cards. The deceptive simplicity of the scene, the pyramidal composition and the network of short, hatch-like brushstrokes are all characteristics of Cézanne’s mature style. The painting is the first of three versions of the same composition that Cézanne made in the early 1890s. Cézanne’s sometimes agonized perfectionism drove him back to the same themes again and again, struggling to understand and convey not only what he saw but how he saw it.
“The Norton Simon Museum is legendary as the repository for many masterpieces rarely shown outside Pasadena,” says Guy Cogeval, President of the Orsay and Orangerie Museums. “The Musée d’Orsay visitors will therefore be given a unique occasion to make marvelous discoveries as some of these will be shown alongside a selection of paintings from its own collection.”
The Norton Simon Museum is known around the world as one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled. Over a 30-year period, industrialist Norton Simon amassed an astonishing collection of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century, and a stellar collection of Indian and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years. Modern and Contemporary Art from Europe and the United States, acquired by the former Pasadena Art Museum, also occupies an important place in the Museum’s collections. The Museum houses more than 12,000 objects, roughly 1,000 of which are on view in the galleries and gardens. Two exhibition spaces feature rotating installations of artworks not on permanent display.
For tickets and further information on the exhibit, please call 626/449-6840 or visit the website at nortonsimon.org.