Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Trip to Rococo France

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through August 20, 2017

The National Gallery's show, "America Collects," on now through August 20th, is a trip to France before the Revolution.  The title of the show refers to the fact that all of the pieces on display are from collections in the United States, as Americans love French art.

It all started with the arrival in 1815 of Joseph Bonaparte (brother of Napoleon) with a large number of paintings, presumably to console him while in exile in the U.S.   This excited an interest that was taken up years later by Gilded Age tycoons, who collected these pieces to decorate their grand homes and then donated them to public institutions, where they continue to reside and attract visitors.

I confess, Rococo art is not to my taste - all the frippery and finery and exuberance makes me long for the precision of a Durer, but when one goes to an exhibit of 18th century French art, one must be prepared for some gaudy frills.

I was interested to see "The Bath of Venus" and "The Toilette of Venus," now displayed together for the first time since the 1700s.  Long-time readers know that I'm always eager to see works that rarely travel or that haven't been exhibited in ages or that are reunited after many years apart.  Right up my street.

Much to my delight, I saw a piece with a dog that looked very like my own four-legged friend.  A black and tan Spaniel-esque canine, the one in the painting had a bit more black in his coat and a smaller snout than my Sherlock, but they could easily have been siblings.

I thought as I made my way through room after room of Gallic excess, "But we all know what happens to these people in 1789..."  And of course, art changed quite a bit after the Reign of Terror.  Gone were the bright colors and opulent settings; a gritty realism took over.  The work that stuck with me most strongly was a piece entitled "The Drunken Cobbler."  It depicted a derelict man, besieged by his wife and her barefoot children.  I use the old saw "the cobbler's children have no shoes" on a regular basis - here it was in front of me!

Verdict: I liked this show more than I thought I would.  Even if much of the style is not my favorite, it was well presented, and the wall notes were quite interesting.

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