Masterpieces by Monet, Van Gogh and Renoir Return to Renovated Gallery
BOSTON, MA (May 12, 2014)—On June 4, the Sidney and Esther Rabb Gallery of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in France reopens at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), after a four-month renovation. One of the most visited rooms in the Museum, the renovated space features 33 paintings and six sculptures. Portraiture, still lifes and scenes from daily life highlight the Museum’s world-class collection of French art of the period. Devoted to avant-garde artists working in France between about 1870 and 1900, the gallery features the achievements of Claude Monet (ten pictures), Edgar Degas (six pictures, two sculptures), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (six pictures, two sculptures) and Vincent van Gogh (three pictures). A selection of the MFA’s most iconic paintings are on view in the gallery, including Renoir’s Dance at Bougival (1883), Van Gogh’s The Postman Joseph Roulin (1888) and Monet’s Water Lilies (1907). Set on the second floor of the Museum’s Evans Wing, the gallery opens on the same day as the new Kunstkammer Gallery, which is devoted to precious works of European art primarily from the 16th and 17th centuries. The renovation of the Sidney and Esther Rabb Gallery was made possible with support from the Vance Wall Foundation.
“It’s a great joy to see the Museum’s renowned Impressionist collection return to its freshly renovated home,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director at the MFA, “We’re now able to display masterworks by Monet, Renoir, Rodin and Van Gogh in a setting that befits their importance, and which focuses visitors’ attention more than ever on the beauty of the objects in one of the MFA’s favorite galleries.”
One of Renoir’s most ambitious and beloved works, Dance at Bougival (1883)—a perennial favorite at the MFA—returns to the gallery after touring Japan in the exhibition, Impressionists at Waterside. In the painting, an amateur boatman in a straw hat sweeps his stylish partner along in a waltz. The solid, sculptural form of the dancers heralds a new direction for Renoir’s style, demonstrating his turn in 1883 toward a new kind of classicism. Executed in Renoir’s studio, the painting draws inspiration from the open air cafés of Bougival—a town on the Seine outside Paris that was frequented by city dwellers, including the Impressionists. Another notable work on view in the gallery is Van Gogh’s The Postman Joseph Roulin (1888), which depicts one of the artist’s closest friends and favorite sitters in Arles, France. The figure is rendered in intense, brilliant color. The two works are hung on the north wall of the gallery, which is dedicated to the range of styles that succeeded Impressionism.
“The renovated gallery will give visitors a chance to see these familiar and beloved works with fresh eyes. Many of the paintings—Monet’s Water Lilies, for example—are so familiar today, so frequently reproduced, that it can be quite difficult to remember what radical, groundbreaking pictures they were when first painted. I hope that their new context will encourage us all to take a closer look at these objects and their history,” said Emily Beeny, Assistant Curator, Paintings, Art of Europe, at the MFA.
The 2,325-square-foot gallery, one of the largest in the Museum, features 31-foot ceilings and a skylight. Recent renovations include custom-made casework, grey damask-covered walls, environmentally friendly LED lighting and a refinished floor. Throughout the gallery, works by artists who rejected convention and blazed a trail for modern art—including Edgar Degas, Gustave Caillebotte and Paul Signac––trace the development of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements in painting, while a rotating selection of the Museum’s 37 pictures by Monet (one of the largest collections outside Paris) represents the span of the artist’s career. Complementing these pictures are major sculptures in bronze, marble and plaster by Auguste Rodin, Renoir and Degas—enlivening the space and highlighting the achievements of avant-garde sculptors of the period.
“This new installation will allow our public to enjoy a range of sculptures, each providing a particular insight into the creativity of artists working in the last decades of the 19th century. Some are very familiar, others deserve to be better known. Few American collections can show two sculptures by Renoir together with some of his most popular paintings,” said Marietta Cambareri, Curator, Decorative Arts and Sculpture and Phillips Curator of Judaica, Art of Europe, at the MFA.
The gallery’s west wall, displaying such pictures as Monet’s Fisherman's Cottage on the Cliffs at Varengeville (1882) and Renoir’s The Seine at Chatou (1881), highlights the High Impressionist moment of the 1870s and 1880s, when many of these revolutionary artists exhibited together in Paris. The emerging painters—including Monet, Renoir and Degas—demonstrated their independence from the annual state-sponsored Salon in 1874 by organizing an independent exhibition. Emphasizing freshness and immediacy over finish, their work attracted scorn from critics, who christened them “Impressionists” for the supposedly careless impressions of nature that their rapid brushwork and bright palettes conveyed. But the Impressionists embraced their nickname and continued to exhibit together for more than a decade.
The gallery’s six sculptures include Rodin’s marble Psyche (1899), a sculpture that evokes the stillness and intimacy of night through the subtle carving of brilliant white marble. Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer (original model 1878–81, cast after 1921) is one of Degas’ best-known works, and represents the artist’s largest surviving sculpture—the original model was shown at the second Impressionist Exhibition, and was the only sculpture Degas ever exhibited. Two lesser known sculptures are by Renoir, who was best known for his paintings. On view are his powerful bronze Victorious Venus (1913), and a plaster Model for a clock case (1915), which presents an allegory celebrating youth, suggesting the passage of time and demonstrating his interest in 18th-century French decorative arts. These works were made late in Renoir’s life, when he was almost completely crippled with arthritis, and fulfilled his long-standing desire to produce works of sculpture. Sculptor Richard Guino acted as Renoir’s hands, following the direct instructions of the master as he modeled the works.
Additional paintings on view in the gallery include still lifes such as Caillebotte’s Fruit Displayed on a Stand (about 1881–82) and portraits like Paul Cézanne’s Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair (about 1877) and Degas’ Duchessa di Montejasi with Her Daughters, Elena and Camilla (about 1876)—the last of Degas’ great family portraits. From Caillebotte’s Man at His Bath (1884), which exemplifies Impressionism’s original radicalism and modernity, to Cézanne’s Turn in the Road (about 1881), which looks ahead to the spatial complexities of cubism, the MFA’s deep Impressionist collection displays the full arc of this landmark movement. Select loans from private collections augment the breadth and depth of the continuously renewed display. Among these are paintings by Monet, Signac and Van Rysselberghe from the Isabelle and Scott Black Collection.
A number of works return to the Sidney and Esther Rabb Gallery from the Boston Loves Impressionism exhibition in the MFA’s Lois B. and Michael K. Torf Gallery. Van Gogh’s Houses at Auvers (1890) held a place of honor as voters’ favorite work in the show, which represented the Museum’s first crowdsourced exhibition. Chosen after 24 days and 41,497 votes, Houses at Auvers edged out Monet’s iconic Water Lilies (1907) and 48 other Impressionist masterpieces to earn the top spot in a vote that had fans “Sharing the Love” from their phones, Facebook and by scanning heart-shaped QR codes found throughout the Museum.
The renovation of the Kunstkammer Gallery was supported in part by Achim Neuse and Volker Wurster.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is recognized for the quality and scope of its collection, which includes an estimated 500,000 objects. The Museum has more than 140 galleries displaying its encyclopedic collection, which includes Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa; Art of the Ancient World; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments. Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 am–4:45 pm; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 am–9:45 pm Admission (which includes one repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students age 18 and older, and includes entry to all galleries and special exhibitions. Admission is free for University Members and youths age 17 and younger on weekdays after 3 pm, weekends, and Boston Public Schools holidays; otherwise $10. Wednesday nights after 4 pm admission is by voluntary contribution (suggested donation $25). MFA Members are always admitted for free. The Museum’s mobile MFA Guide is available at ticket desks and the Sharf Visitor Center for $5, members; $6, non-members; and $4, youths. The Museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Patriots’ Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For more information, visit or call 617.267.9300. The MFA is located on the Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.