Can Boston art lovers be as uninformed as a recent poll suggests? Can the Boston Museum of Fine Arts – where the poll was taken?
The MFA mounted a show called “Boston Loves Impressionism” based on a poll that asked more than 40,000 museum goers for their favorite Impressionist work out of 50 in the museum collection.
And the favorite was – drum roll, please – Van Gogh’s “Houses at Auvers,” ahead of Monet’s “Water Lilies” by nearly a thousand votes. Also notable is the third place winner, Degas’ sculpture “Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer.”
Question: What’s wrong with this picture?
Answer: Pretty much everything!
Van Gogh was not an Impressionist, Monet was. And Degas’s sculpture doesn’t even compute when talking about Impressionism.
Confounding the art illiteracy, MFA installed these three top vote-getters at the entrance of the show under the banner “Boston Loves Impressionism,” even though two out of the three of the most popular Impressionists were not Impressionists.
To hear MFA director Malcolm Rogers tell it, the show has “provided new insight into Boston’s changing artistic tastes.” Does he really think a vote for a 19th century style signals a 21st century city’s change in artistic taste?
About the impressionists: let’s review: They sought to liberate French art of its classical themes and academic techniques by getting out of their studios and painting in the great outdoors. And because they worked outside, they became interested in light and its effect on images. Instead of mixing colors on palettes, they placed vivid strokes of colors side by side, which seen at a distance, blend in the eye to appear more in-the-moment alive.
Van Gogh didn’t do this, which is why he’s called a Post-Impressionist. Like others in the movement, he didn’t hold with Impressionism’s idea of painting the external world and momentary visual effect. He followed his heart rather than his eyes and used color to express his feelings. His dedication to feeling led to Expressionism.
About Degas and Impressionism: Museums continue to show exhibit Degas’ bronzes, including "Little Dancer” and with great fanfare, even though there's no such thing as Degas bronzes. Degas never used bronze nor participated in the myriad aesthetic decisions in casting and patinating bronzes.
What museum goers are looking at is a casting of a Degas wax study, made into bronze after he died. In other words, they're museum-store fare, not the original art that the museum charge fees to see, MFA included.
A 1995 report from the College Art Association said that the Degas bronzes aren't even direct reproductions of the original, but rather two generations after the wax original. Plaster molds of the originals were used for the bronzes, which would make them reproductions of reproductions.
The National Gallery of Art, holder of the largest public collection of Degas' original wax sculptures, notes that Degas didn't even like bronzes: "The medium was too permanent and ill-suited to the way he worked, which involved constant changing and revision."
Apparently, MFA didn’t get these memos.
Let's give Degas the last word. He told art critic François Thiebault-Sisson, he modeled the waxworks merely as exercises for his paintings: "Since no one will ever see these efforts,” Degas said, “no one should think of speaking about them."