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EXHIBITION REVIEW

EUROPEAN PAINTINGS FROM NEW YORK'S METROPOLITAN MUSEUM IN SWITZERLAND

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

MARTIGNY, SWITZERLAND, 11 November 2006— Fifty-one masterpieces of European art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York are currently being presented at the Pierre Gianadda Foundation in Martigny, Switzerland. Dating from a 1590 Caravaggio to a delicate 1899 work by Klimt, they have been displayed according to their country of origin to show the evolution of the different styles and themes in Europe over the centuries.  Starting with the Italian section, the oldest school of all, works representing the Flemish, Austrian, Spanish and English schools are all on display. Interestingly, thirty-four of these works have been donated or are on loan from private owners.

However, although the exhibition is obviously of great historical interest, the overwhelming sensation upon entering the Espace Gianadda in Martigny is the sheer mass of colour and beauty that hits you in the spacious hall. This is no hallowed place where people peer through filtered lighting and speak in hushed whispers. These sumptuous paintings, each lit from above, have been most attractively hung around the walls and are instantly visible, not half hidden in smaller rooms or galleries. Whichever way one turns there is a Van Gogh, a Sisley, a Manet, Renoir, El Greco or Stubbs. No need to be a connoisseur of art to enjoy an exhibition here.
 
El Greco's Adoration of the shepherds, a fashionable subject at the end of the sixteenth century, and one of many that he painted, is representative of the religious works on view. A magnificent painting, with its elongated figures in swirling robes leaning over the baby Jesus, the whole bathed in an eerie, unnatural light, it paved the way for such later works as Midas bathing at the fountain of Pactole by the French artist Nicolas Poussin.

 Poussin himself was inspired by the legend of king Midas who changed everything he touched into gold, and, unable to eat or drink, broke the spell by bathing in the river Pactole. Logically influenced by these two works, Courbet united religion and mythology in The Source , completed some 250 years later.  Is the naked woman in his painting a goddess or a simple peasant girl?


Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet (French, 1819–1877)
The Source, 1862
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Photo courtesy of Metropolitan of Museum of Art

In the seventeenth century, painting was dominated by the Flemish school, when artistic inspiration sprang from everyday life, and a series of works in this lively exhibition portray people at home going about their daily activities. Paintings began to be full of amusing small details. Jan Steen, for example, turned towards the theatre and popular literature of the time in The Lovesick Maiden , where a doctor is taking a young girl's pulse under the eyes of a servant. The painting is full of allusions to her lovesickness, culminating in the two copulating dogs in the forefront of the picture!


Jan Havicksz. Steen (Dutch, 1626–1679)
The Lovesick Maiden, ca. 1660
Bequest of Helen Swift Neilson, 1945
Photo courtesy of Metropolitan of Museum of Art

The exhibition also boasts many portraits, from the curious Portrait of a Woman in Grey by Degas, an artist more usually associated with dancers or "keyhole" paintings of washerwomen, to the romantic and surprising self portrait of Van Dyck at the age of twenty. Most powerful of all, perhaps, is Rembrandt's Le Porteur d'étendard . Rembrandt has depicted the man, Floris Scoop, a wealthy art collector, in his feathered hat, carrying sword and standard, his uniform of the Municipal Guard of Amsterdam.

Francisco de Goya's haunting José Costa y Bonells dit Pepito, completed in 1813, during the Napoleonic war, merits far more than a cursory glance. It is a painting which conveys both the humour and tenderness the artist felt towards this sad small boy decked out in his soldier's uniform, the toy drum, horse and gun behind him. Innocence associated to the horrors of war. 


Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746–1828)
José Costa y Bonells (died l870), Called Pepito
Gift of Countess Bismarck, 1961
Photo courtesy of Metropolitan of Museum of Art

The Espace Pierre Gianada, too, has a special history. The land, in the foothills of the Swiss Alps was initially bought by  Leonard Gianadda to build an apartment block, but when work began, the remains of a Celtic temple was discovered. This discovery coincided with the death of Gianadda's younger brother, Pierre, who lost his life while rescuing fellow survivors from a plane crash. Leonard decided to create a Foundation in his memory, and built this remarkable cultural centre, inaugurated on November 19, 1978, the day that would have been his brother's fortieth birthday. The main foyer housing the paintings was thus erected on the site of the temple, while gardens were created around the ruins of a sanctuary.

Since then, a succession of prestigious exhibitions of great and lesser known artists have been shown, and when I was there in October,  a concert featuring the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, with Canadian violinist, Corey Cerovsek was held  in the main foyer. Surrounded by all the masterpieces, with Manet's Le Guitarist   looking on and almost joining in a couple of metres away, although by looking at the way he is holding his instrument, it was just as well he wasn't. 

Concerts up until May 2007 include a recital by Cecilia Bartoli, the Camerata of Lausanne with Pierre Amoyal and Brigitte Meyer, Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk, Fazil Say, OSR conducted by Armin Jordan, and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (for further information, contact the Foundation Gianadda) while the next exhibition presents the paintings, drawings and engravings of Swiss artist, Edouard Vallet.

After Martigny, Masterworks of European Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: From El Greco to Cézanne will be on view at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain from 30 November 2006 to 4 March 2007.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'oeuvre de la peinture européenne
Until 12 November 2006
Fondation Pierre Gianadda
Rue du Forum 59 
Martigny, Switzerland
Tel: 41 (0) 27 722 39 78



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