A few good paintings 

Visual Art

Julianna Thibodeaux European Painti
European Paintings from the Caroline Marmon Fesler Collection Indianapolis Museum of Art Alliance Gallery Through July 9 'Enclosed Field with Peasant' by Vincent van Gogh, part of the Caroline Marmon Fesler Collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art What if you had the opportunity to gather some of your dearest friends in one room, with time to spend with each one individually? Would you savor each visit, drinking up the renewed connection? Such was the feeling I had last weekend when I stepped into the Alliance Gallery at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. In this relatively small and indistinct gallery hang some of the IMA’s most renowned works of art that are normally dispersed throughout the European Galleries. But as these galleries are closed for renovation, we are given the rare treat of spending time with a few fine examples from them — 13 of the so-called “beloved works” from noted collector and patron Caroline Marmon Fesler. What makes this small exhibition so significant isn’t just the fact that it represents such important artists — Van Gogh, Picasso, Braque and Chagall among them — but the works are also important: Fesler was known for having a keen eye. As she wrote to a New York art dealer in 1944, “I will tell you what I am trying to do; to build up our small museum by placing there anonymously — as a memorial to my father and mother, some really good pictures — preferably landscapes.” So in the 1940s, Fesler set out to fulfill her mission, collecting works like Vincent Van Gogh’s “Enclosed Field with Peasant” (1889, oil on canvas), an ethereal landscape that is indicative of Van Gogh’s painterly affinity for nature in harmony with man. I relished the opportunity to step inside this painting, recalling it in its original spot in the former European Galleries, which were decidedly brighter and more complementary to the work; and yet, it is just as intoxicating here, as the painting speaks for itself. Look closely and you’ll see the lone figure working the land. He appears, really, as a suggestion; he isn’t solid, or grounded. An apt metaphor for Van Gogh’s interpretation of himself in the world. The blue sky in the upper left balances the composition, lending a necessary brightness, a suggestion of hope. Then step to your right, and, in stark contrast, another equally beloved and familiar friend: George Seurat’s “The Channel of Gravelines, Petit Fort Philippe” (1890, oil on canvas) epitomizes the aesthetic control and experimentation with color that characterize pointillism. As the curator writes, “Nothing better illustrates Mrs. Fesler’s ability to select an artist’s finest work than this Seurat, a painting at the heart of the IMA’s Neo-Impressionist collection.” And there’s the di Chirico. And the Chagall. And the Picasso. It’s really a who’s who of European masters … and a what’s what of European art movements, from the 16th through the 20th centuries. While such a tidy exhibition can’t possibly be inclusive — there’s the issue, discussed in reviews past, of the neglect of female artists in the canon of art history, for one — this is an excellent representation of European fine art prior to and at the cusp of modernism. The exhibition hangs through July 9, so you’ll have plenty of time to renew your acquaintances with these old friends — or perhaps introduce yourself for the first time. You can tell them I sent you. The IMA is located at 1000 W. Michigan Road. For information, call 317-923-1331 or visit www.ima-art.org. In connection with the exhibition, Dr. Robert Rosenblum, co-curator of 20th century art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, will give a lecture on issues of connoisseurship and changing taste, as applied to the19th and 20th century paintings in the Fesler collection, at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 18 in the IMA’s DeBoest Lecture Hall.

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