Collection highlights Impressionism
This semester presents students with yet another incentive to visit the Colby College Museum of Art: the newly installed Joan Whitney Payson Collection, is a small but beautiful collection of modern British, American and French works on loan from the Portland Museum of Art.
“The strengths of the Payson Collection are Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, drawings, and watercolors,” said Elizabeth Finch, Lunder Curator of American Art at the Museum.
The Colby Museum shares the Payson Collection with the Portland Museum of Art, and this exhibit presents five works on loan from that collection. Twelve works from Colby’s permanent collection complete the exhibit, and offer a glimpse of the treasures that typically live in the dark depths of the Museum’s archives.
Housed in the Theater Gallery, a cozy walled-off space in the Lower Jetté Galleries on the bottom floor of the Museum, you’ll find landscapes, urban views, domestic scenes and portraits, dating almost exclusively from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The exception is British artist Sir Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Lady Elizabeth Somerset, painted in 1777.
While the ornate gold frame might give away its age, the work has a powerful, modern quality to it, and its brushy treatment of paint bears similarities to the later Impressionist movement. Lady Elizabeth appears a sweet young girl against a stormy grey background, dressed in white with rosy cheeks, wispy hair and a candid, challenging gaze.
“The other day, a couple was in here looking at the paintings and all of a sudden the man just said “Oh my God!” and sat down right there in front of that portrait and looked at it for a good ten minutes,” said Bob, a security officer who patrols the galleries. His personal favorite, he told me without hesitation, is “Confidences,” by the famous French Impressionist, Pierre Auguste Renoir.
The painting will likely grab your attention as you enter the gallery. A young couple sits side-by-side reading, a small dog at their feet. The woman leans on her lover’s shoulder, the bright red flower in her hat a vivid contrast to the luminous iridescence of her long white dress and the sweetness of her expression. They are in an intimate world all their own, sheltered by the deep foliage that surrounds them.
Other striking works include American artist Childe Hassan’s lively “Harvest Time, Brittany (Pont Avon)” with its brushy strokes, thick paint and warm summer tones. The men and women working the fields melt seamlessly into the scenery of a tangibly hot, hazy afternoon.
Mary Cassatt’s famous portrait “Meditation” is a gem from Colby’s archives, (especially interesting when placed in juxtaposition with William Merritt Chase’s “Portrait of Charles Henry Ault”) along with Cassatt’s delicate graphite on paper sketches.
Stroll through the glass doors of the Museum sometime before the end of the semester, and you will no doubt be pleasantly surprised by this beautiful, intimate collection of valuable paintings, sketches and watercolors, on display through June 12.