French art in Perth: ‘Van Gogh, Dali and Beyond’

Perth - French art -

What do a Dutchman and a Spaniard have in common? Don’t be fooled by the lack of French…

The Art Gallery of Western Australia’s current exhibition, ‘Van Gogh, Dalí and Beyond: The World Reimagined’, brings a large dose of French art to our shores.

The spirit of France

The French influence – through its artists, intellect, and landscape – is beautifully conveyed in this stunning exhibition, an Australian exclusive from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Three big-hitters, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh, greet you at the door. The bright, white lighting and the sharp, modern lines of the gallery space beyond become the perfect environment to explore early twentieth-century thought in art.

French artists at the edge

French art - Cézanne -

Cézanne takes some effort to inspire with his ‘Still Life with Ginger Jar, Sugar Bowl and Oranges’ (1902-6). After all, it’s all about shapes for Cézanne – the roundness of an orange balancing precariously in the heavy folds of a poorly laid tablecloth doesn’t make for a relaxing composition.

Cézanne demands attention and makes you work for any pleasure you find here.

Bohemian Paris

Next up is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s ‘La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge’ (1891-2). La Goulue (the glutton), otherwise known as Louise Weber, was a muse for Toulouse-Lautrec, who painted her many times.

French art - Toulouse Lautrec -

Here she takes centre stage posed in a dramatically low-cut dress (think JLo’s Versace neck to navel number at the Grammys some years ago) with a brazen stare directed straight at the viewer.

This must have left a few nineteenth-century viewers uncomfortable but perfectly represents the carefree attitude of the Bohemians enjoying Montmartre at the time.

Other works here draw on these ideas. Spaniard Juan Gris, ‘Grapes’ (1913), echoes the still life tradition through a refracted Paris café tabletop, bearing a piece of Le Journal, a wine bottle, and a bowl of fruit. Kees van Dongen’s portrait of female impersonator and soprano ‘Modjesko’ (1908) in full song, boldly projects the risqué life of the Parisian cabarets using the bright palette of les Fauves.

French light and landscape

Van Gogh’s unsettling brushstroke in ‘Olive Trees’ (1889) at Saint-Rémy and Cézanne’s ‘Château Noir’, 1903-4, reflect the love of landscape and light that drew artists to the Mediterranean coast.

Van Gogh -

Works by Fauves Maurice de Vlaminck ‘Autumn Landscape’ (c. 1905) and André Dérain ‘L’Estaque’ (1906), soak up and celebrate these sunny tones. Dérain’s conscious splatters of dramatic colour depict a scene near the small village and artists’ haven, L’Estaque.

A shift towards Cubism is reflected in two later works also inspired by the French paysage: Georges Braque’s ‘Road near L’Estaque’ (1908) and Jean Metzinger’s vibrant ‘Landscape’ (1912-14).

Masterpieces and favourites

Perhaps one of the lesser known works is, to my mind, also one of the most peaceful and beautiful.

Pierre Bonnard’s ‘Dining Room overlooking the Garden’ (1930-1) offers a lovely scene of early morning light striking a table set for breakfast, painted at the villa he shared with his wife Marthe in the south-west of France. It will have you rushing out for croissants and hot chocolate whatever the time of day!

Van Gogh, Dali and Beyond: The World Reimagined’ closes 2 December 2013.

Who is your favourite French painter? Or your favourite piece of French art? Join the conversation in the comments box below.

Images courtesy of the Art Gallery of Western Australia.
1. Exhibition logo.
2. Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906) ‘Still Life with Ginger Jar, Sugar Bowl, and Oranges’ 1902-06
Oil on canvas, 23 7/8 x 28 7/8″ (60.6 x 73.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Lillie P. Bliss Collection
3. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864- 1901) ‘La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge’ 1891- 92
Oil on board, 31 1/4 × 23 1/4″ (79.4 × 59 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy
4. Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890) ‘The Olive Trees’ Saint Rémy, June-July 1889
Oil on canvas, 28 5/8 × 36″ (72.6 × 91.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest

About the Contributor

Susan Broomhall

I am a historian of France, researching life in France from the middle ages to the Belle Epoque. You can find out more about my academic work here.

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