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European & American Art Impressionism & Post-Impressionism

This gallery introduces art from 1850 onwards via a selection of paintings, sculpture, decorative art objects, prints, drawings and photographs. Traditional genres such as landscape and portraiture remain important in the nineteenth century but painters and sculptors such as Gustave Courbet and Auguste Rodin show a new interest in realism and naturalism. Unlike the Classical and Romantic artists before them, they do not idealise their subjects, and their work is defined in opposition to the academic art of the Salons.

Claude Monet and others associated with Impressionism organised their own exhibitions outside the Salon. They also radically changed what was regarded as appropriate subjects for painting, taking advantage of the freedom granted by ever-increasing railway travel to new leisure sites beyond Paris. Their approach was influential throughout the Western world. The Australian-born painter John Russell, for example, met Monet working on Belle-Ile in 1886. He later settled there, painting striking colour-rich studies of the ocean and rocky shoreline.

The Post-Impressionists emphasised abstract or symbolist qualities. Georges Seurat renders his seascape as a series of tiny dabs of paints that merge in the viewer’s eye. Elsewhere, ocular intimacy is replaced by spatial or compositional ‘close-ups’. Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard and Mary Cassatt produce scenes of domestic life, while sculptors such as Medardo Rosso and Émile Bourdelle make works with the immediacy of wax or clay. Artists take their cue from organic forms. Monet painted his grand ‘decorations’ into the twentieth century, while the Art nouveau objects made by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Emile Gallé are suffused with the sinuous, asymmetrical shapes of nature.