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August 11, 2013 9:50 pm
Shipping magnate William Burrell collected almost everything – Chinese ceramics, Persian rugs, medieval weaponry, the matrimonial bedhead of Henry VIII and the hastily divorced Anne of Cleves (Burrell’s own marriage was difficult). Among 8,000 pieces donated in 1944 to his native Glasgow were 37 French Impressionist works which, since the eclectic Burrell Collection opened in 1983, have never been shown together until now.
Impressionism is interpreted broadly, from a precursor – plein-air seascape painter Eugène Boudin – to Post-impressionists Gauguin and Vuillard. There is a superb, characteristic Cézanne – the light-filled airy forms held within a rigorous structure of the green-ochre “The Château of Medan” – and a typical pretty Renoir, “Lady with Auburn Hair”, a vibrant, striking harmony in blue and orange. But what is defining about Burrell’s taste is that he gravitated towards the thinkers rather than the lookers of the Impressionist experiment: Manet and Degas rather than Monet, the only major figure absent here.
Burrell acquired eight top-range paintings by Degas and six by Manet, with an emphasis on pastels and on the unusual, off-centre pictorial arrangements with which both artists revolutionised composition. The triple recurring motifs of dancers, bathers and jockeys with which Degas explored his lifelong interest in the human figure and in depicting movement are all represented; outstanding are “Jockeys in the Rain” and “The Rehearsal”, contrasting placid waiting ballerinas with energetic performers in a studio dominated by a huge spiral staircase.
The Manets are mostly late and poignant: pastels created when ill health made chalk easier to handle than oil, and concerned with transience – the delicate, simplified “Roses in a Champagne Glass” – and fleeting beauty and fashion, as in the delicate pink-grey-cream portrait of actress Marie Colombier. The reflective drama of gilt, mirrors and lonely drinkers in “Café on the Place du Théâtre Français” anticipates Manet’s last great painting of alienation, the Courtauld’s “Bar at the Folies-Bergère”. This collection, of international significance, demands to be better known.
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