On March 11 the Amon Carter Museum of American Art will open a presentation of four masterworks by John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), the preeminent expatriate painter of the late 19th century. In Sargent’s Youthful Genius: Paintings from the Clark, four renowned works from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute will travel to Texas for the first time. The exhibition is on view through June 17. Sargent’s Youthful Genius: Paintings from the Clark is presented at the museum as part of a joint program with the Kimbell Art Museum, which will concurrently show the exhibition The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark.
Sargent’s legendary canvas Fumée d’Ambre Gris (Smoke of Ambergris) is among the four works in the exhibition. Created in 1880, this magnificent oil on canvas stands among the most remarkable of all the artist’s paintings, highly prized for its ambiguous narrative and exquisite color scheme of cream on white. The exhibition also includes Portrait of Carolus-Duran (1879), Sargent’s spirited portrait of his Parisian art instructor Carolus-Duran (1837–1917), as well two entrancing scenes from Sargent’s excursions to Italy, A Venetian Interior (1880–82) and A Street in Venice (1880–82).
In 1910, Robert Sterling Clark—entrepreneur, soldier, explorer and an heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune—settled in Paris and began collecting works of art, an interest he inherited from his parents. When he married Francine Clary in 1919, she joined him in what became a shared, lifelong passion.
The Clarks’ collection grew exponentially over the ensuing years. Following World War II, they worked to establish a public museum to house their holdings, and in 1955 the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute opened in Williamstown, Mass. The Clarks possessed a discerning eye for collecting, and many of the works they accumulated are today iconic.
The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark is the only U.S. venue for this first-ever international touring exhibition of French Impressionist masterpieces from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The Clark’s superb collection of French Impressionist paintings, which features a remarkable group of works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, is renowned throughout the world. The Clark exhibition is touring for a period of three years (2011–14) and appears at major venues in Italy, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and China.
The selection of 72 paintings in The Age of Impressionism includes 21 by Renoir, six by Claude Monet, seven by Camille Pissarro, four by Alfred Sisley, three by Edgar Degas, two by Edouard Manet, and two by Berthe Morisot. Many are celebrated masterpieces of Impressionism that visitors will recognize from reproductions even if they have never been to Williamstown to see them in person. The exhibition also features examples of the work of some leading French artists of the period who worked in alternative styles, including the landscape painters Camille Corot and Théodore Rousseau, figure painters William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and Jacques-Joseph Tissot, and the post-Impressionist painters Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin.
Although the French Impressionists were the heart of the collection, the Clarks ranged widely in their tastes—paintings by the Old Masters found favor, as well as works by the modern Americans John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer. The couple founded the Clark Art Institute as a showcase for the collection in 1955. Although the Institute’s holdings have expanded greatly since then, notably through the addition of a growing collection of early photography, its scope and character continue to represent the interests of the founders.
The Age of Impressionism represents all the important types of painting that the Impressionists practiced, from landscapes to figure compositions and still lifes. Their near-magical mastery of effects of natural light comes through strongly in Monet’s springtime view of Tulip Fields at Sassenheim, near Leiden or Pissarro’s Piette’s House at Montfoucault, a winter scene. The Clark Renoirs are virtually an exhibition within the exhibition, representing the range of his subject matter and the evolution of his style from the 1870s to the 1890s. They include some of the most sensuous and seductive of all his works—such unabashed celebrations of youth and beauty as Girl with a Fan and Sleeping Girl. Among the other masterpieces of Impressionist figure painting in the exhibition is one of the most beautiful of Degas’s behind-the-scenes paintings of the ballet, Dancers in the Classroom, its off-centered composition reflecting the artist’s love of Japanese woodblock prints.
Grouped near the beginning of the exhibition, paintings such as Gérôme’s Fellah Women Drawing Water give a sense of the high level of technical “finish” practiced by older painters and beloved of more conservative taste during the Impressionist era. Again, it is to the credit of Sterling and Francine Clark that they were able to appreciate the work of artists other than their favorites of the Impressionist avant-garde. “Academic, yes, tight, yes,” Sterling Clark said of one of his paintings by Gérôme, “but what drawing and mastery of the art.”
The exhibition concludes by suggesting some of the stylistic paths that the Impressionists opened up for younger painters. Gauguin’s Young Christian Girl, for example, shows Impressionist technique and color deployed in a less purely descriptive, more personal and stylized manner.