“Raphael to Monet: European Masterpieces from the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore,” on display through January 11 at Charlotte’s Mint Museum of Art, is a rare opportunity to enjoy magnificent artworks from many of European art history’s greatest talent spanning five centuries.
Few collections are the equal of the 22,000 works of art assembled over decades by father and son railroad tycoons William and Henry Walters. Henry Walters magnanimously gave the collection to the mayor and city council of Baltimore in 1931 “for the benefit of the public.”
The exhibition’s title reference, “Raphael to Monet,” connects the two greatest art periods of Europe, the Renaissance and Impressionism, while the exhibition threads through many other major art movements and artists in between.
Hailed by art historians as the last great painter of the High Renaissance, Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael) was called “the prince of painters” while living in Rome. The serene “Madonna of the Candelabra,” circa 1513-14, on display was the first of the Raphael Madonna paintings to enter an American collection when Henry Walters acquired it in 1900.
Highlights from “Raphael to Monet” include Guido Reni’s “The Penitent Magdalene,” circa 1635, and Anthony Van Dyck’s “Virgin and Child,” representative of the Flemish artist’s finest period of religious paintings in the 1630s.
Giovanni Paolo Panini earned fame from his broad cityscapes as illustrated in “View of the Roman Forum,” 1747. Another famous view painter of the Eighteenth Century was Francesco Guardi. “Venetian Courtyard,” circa 1770-1790, illustrates his use of color and brushstrokes valued later by the Impressionists.
Rapahel himself will make a figurative appearance at the Mint Museum of Art through Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres, “The Betrothal of Rapahel and the Niece of Cardinal Bibbiena,” 1813. Ingres idolized Rapahel, creating a series of works dealing with his life. Cardinal Dovizi il Bibbiena offered his niece’s hand in marriage to Raphael, but she died before the wedding could take place.
The cream of the Walters Art Museum collection is its Nineteenth Century French paintings. France was the birthplace of possibility in 1800 with the aristocracy vanquished, Napoleon at the political helm and the modern era at dawn. It was a magnificent century of vision in which Paris was the center of the art world.
Most major artistic trends of the period in France are represented in “Raphael to Monet.” Academic neoclassism is illustrated by its foremost exponent Ingres and Jean-Leon Gerome’s “The Death of Caesar,” 1859. Romanticism is in evidence by Eugene Delacroix’s “Christ on the Sea of Galilee,” 1854, and “Collision of Moorish Horseman,” 1843-44. Examples of the realism of the Barbizon School can be found in Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s “Two Italian Peasants,” 1843, Jules-Louis Dupre’s “A Bright Day,” 1835-40, and Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Potato Harvest,” 1855, depicting the French peasants’ seemingly endless struggle for survival. Georges Clairin’s “Entering the Harem,” circa 1870s, reflects the Orientalist style popular during the expansion of empire.
And then there are the Impressionist paintings among the Walters Collection, the shocking loose brushwork and spontaneous characteristics of the artwork on display. Later, it came to represent the most significant art movement of the late Nineteenth Century. An innovator and an unswerving advocate of the Impressionist style, Oscar-Claude Monet is perhaps the most recognized artist of his time. His “Springtime,” on display in the exhibition, captures his first wife Camille seated reading a book on the grass beneath lilac bushes in their garden at Argenteuil. Monet’s seven years at Argenteuil, a village on the Seine near Paris, produced some of the most joyous and famous works of the Impressionist movement as friends Manet, Renoir and Sisley joined him there.
Many shared Monet’s contribution to the development of modern painting. Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre remained an academic traditionalist, but encouraged his students — Gerome, Monet, Sisley, Renoir and American expatriate James McNeill Whistler — to pursue their own outlets. Edouard Manet was a pioneering realist, emphasizing contemporary life and capturing the immediacy of the moment. One of his masterpieces, “At the Café,” 1879 will be on display at “Raphael to Monet.”
So will paintings by Pissarro, Sisley and Degas. Sculptures include work by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Antoine-Louis Barye, Honore Daumier and Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier.
The Mint museum of art is at 2730 Randolph Road. For information, 704-337-2000 or www.mintmuseum.org.