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Master Strokes

The Art Gallery of South Australia’s much-anticipated exhibition of 65 Impressionist works of art from the Musée d’Orsay is the first of its kind and magnitude, outside of Paris.

In fact, it is the first time many of the works on display have travelled outside of the surrounds of the Musée d’Orsay and will be shown exclusively in Adelaide.

After speaking with the now former Art Gallery of South Australia Director, Nick Mitzevich, and Curator from the Musée d’Orsay, Paul Perrin, it is not just the paintings – ethereally beautiful as they are – that are on display.

It’s also the infectious passion of these two art masters who have made the project happen.

There is something incredibly inspiring about speaking with people who have made it their life’s work to really command a subject, and when it comes to discussing modern art – in this case Impressionism – Nick Mitzevich and Paul Perrin radiate the same luminous light as the paintings they exhibit.

Nick Mitzevich likes challenges, and his next one will be colossal, as the new Director of the National Gallery of Australia in July. Colours of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay is his fitting South Australian swansong and his enthusiasm for the exhibition is electric.

“The great potency of Colours of Impressionism is that it represents 65 works of art that changed the course of art history,” Mitzevich said.

“Many of the artists represented in this exhibition are household names, like Monet, Pissarro and Renoir – they’re artists that forged a new future.”

Watch our video to view the exhibition and find out more about Nick and Paul’s favourite works.

Click here to watch the video

Paul Perrin, who travelled from the Musée d’Orsay to co-curate the exhibition with his colleague, Marine Kisiel, was in Adelaide for the launch, giving us the opportunity to speak with him about the exhibition.

As he toured VIPs around the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Elder Wing his eyes were full of pride, marvelling at how beautiful his countrymen’s beloved paintings looked in our purpose-built gallery.

“What is interesting is that our museum opened in 1900 for the Universal Exhibition in Paris, the same year that this building (the Art Gallery of South Australia) was opened here in Adelaide, but they are both very different,” Perrin said.

“This was planned as an Art Gallery, so it has very high ceilings, with natural light, and beautiful architectural ornaments on display. The Musée d’Orsay was a train station that was transformed into a museum.

“We don’t have a grand space like this one, so we're very happy to be able to exhibit our paintings in such a gallery.”

The Curators Challenge

For a man who has made exhibiting modern art his life, finding a new way of presenting the Impressionists was admittedly a challenge for Perrin and his colleagues.

“We wanted to go back to a very simple idea – not iconography, not context, not the biography of the artists but how the paintings were made,” he said.

Ultimately, they distilled this down to the single element of colour.

“Through colour we’ve built a new narrative of how Impressionism has evolved over time. This idea of colour has given us a new insight into what Impressionism is,” Perrin said.

The result is a striking exhibition that moves from dark to light as seamlessly as it moves through time.

The Originals

What is so universally adored about the Impressionists is that they forged an art form based on a need to express themselves, and the changing world around them, in a new way. They were the original innovators, the pioneers of modern art.

“The impressionists were trailblazers, they wanted to push art to a new place,” Mitzevich said.

“They responded to technology, to changes in society and wanted art to be elevated from just documenting things or telling historical stories. They wanted to paint contemporary subjects and they wanted to define modern life.”

By depicting and commenting on society through the eye of the beholder the Impressionists evoked an emotion that was rarely seen in traditional art forms – but by pushing the boundaries many of them were outcasts.

“But today they are the middle-ground, they’re what everything is judged against.

“It’s interesting that over time the edge always becomes the centre – it’s heartening to have so many paintings here that have made an enormous contribution to art history.”

Signature Strokes

With master works by Monet, Renoir, Manet, Morisot, Pissarro, Cézanne and more, Colours of Impressionism is also a celebration of style. It’s not only the use of light and colour that differentiates the Impressionists – their brush strokes also tell a story of individuality.

“Monet is really bold in his choice of colours, but he also uses strong and large brush strokes most of the time,” Perrin said. “Renoir is quite different, he uses more fluid colours and tries to have a softer aspect in his paintings.”

While each artist has their own unique way of expressing themselves in their paintings, Nick Mitzevich believes the Impressionists all have one thing in common.

“Light is the most important element of Impressionism – you see each of the Impressionists trying to capture light at moments in time,” Mitzevich said.

“Whether it is the moon at 12am, or the sun when it is setting, the way the light affects the subject is a focus of Impressionism and the artists present it beautifully through colour – they’re full of the energy of that moment in time, the energy that the artist is trying to capture.”

Colours of Impressionism, Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay is exhibiting until 29 July 2018. To purchase tickets, visit the Art Gallery of South Australia website.