France was host to many foreign artists during the first decades of the twentieth century, and Paris lay at the heart of the development of Modern art. This exhibition, which brings together for the first time more than one hundred works from the Metropolitan's collection of paintings from the School of Paris, includes the works of thirty-six modern masters, among them Braque, Chagall, Dubuffet, Matisse, Miró, Modigliani, and nineteen paintings by Picasso. United in this exhibition, the works recall the great vitality of Modern Paris.
The exhibition begins richly with Pierre Bonnard's The Children's Meal (1895), and paintings by Maurice Denis and Edouard Vuillard, as well as a later example by their predecessor Claude Monet— Reflections, the Water Lily Pond at Giverny (ca. 1920). Works of the 1940s—late paintings by Georges Braque, Jean Hélion, and Fernand Léger, and three early paintings by Jean Dubuffet—concluded the exhibition. Balthus, represented by four paintings, was the only featured artist aside from Hélion and Dubuffet born after 1900, and the only living artist included.
Organized chronologically, this revelatory exhibition traces the development of painting in France from its Impressionist roots at the turn of the century through the aftermath of World War II, engaging the Fauves, the Cubists, and the Surrealists. The exhibition's juxtaposition of subject matter and style reveal unexpected relationships between the artists who so profoundly shaped the art of their century.
Paris's World's Fair in 1900 brought worldwide fame to the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. In the following decades, France was host to an influx of artists of varying nationalities—including Bulgarian, Czech, French, German, Italian, Lithuanian, Mexican, Russian, Spanish, and Swiss—and Paris was their locus of creativity. In a reaction to Impressionism, a group of painters developed a new style characterized by vibrant colors and bold, undisguised brushstrokes for emotional and decorative effect. Exhibiting together at the Autumn Salon of 1905, they became known as les fauves, or "wild beasts." With Henri Matisse as one of their leading figures, Fauvism became the first of the major avant-garde developments in European art between the turn of the century and the First World War.
Around 1909, in one of the landmark shifts in Western art, the Cubist movement arose with Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Cubism possessed a stylistic cohesion that set it apart from Fauvism. Artists—including Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Roger de La Fresnaye—broke down the forms of objects into geometrical planes and recomposed them from various, simultaneous points of view, creating three-dimensional representational forms in a two-dimensional plane. Picasso and his colleagues painted poets, writers, musicians, harlequins, and women, as well as still-life compositions with recurring guitars, violins, wine bottles, pipes, cigarettes, playing cards, and newspapers—all iconographical accoutrements of the bohemian studio-and-café lifestyle in Paris.
Surrealism sprang from the anti-rationalist philosophies that took hold in art after World War I, and flourished in art and literature during the 1920s and 1930s. Characterized by a fascination with the bizarre, the incongruous, and the irrational—its precursors included Marc Chagall and Giorgio de Chirico—it was conceived as a revolutionary alternative approach to the formalism of Cubism and other forms of abstract art.
This exhibition is sponsored by Aetna.