Monet and the Impressionist Revolution at the Albright Knox Art Gallery
by Helena Robin
There’s a new exhibit in town and she’s a beauty! Literally. Featuring works by Matisse, Cezanne, Rodin, Degas, Seuratte and starring several paintings by the Rock Star of Impressionism, Claude Monet, Monet and the Impressionist Revolution at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is something you and your kids shouldn’t miss.
I understand that visiting an art museum with your kids might not be an obvious choice. I know that many kids become bored and restless at places where they can’t touch anything, climb something or express themselves loudly. But, I firmly believe that when kids know what to expect, connect with something familiar and are encouraged to mentally engage they can enjoy almost anything! So with the help of Ed Krawczyk, a terrific docent at the Albright Knox, and using my own kids as guinea pigs, I can offer you these tips on not only visiting, but enjoying Monet and the Impressionist Revolution with your kids!
1. Exhibit Catalogue
I would be breaking copyright laws by providing you with images of the paintings and sculptures from the exhibit. I can, however, provide you with the catalogue so that you can access the images and create a look book for your kids. I urge you to do this! Follow this link to get the Big List of works in the exhibit. The artists’ names are listed first and the title of the painting or sculpture is italicized.
Help your kids become familiar with the works before your visit: Ask them questions about each one (what would you name it, what season is it, what do you think of when you look at it, which is your favorite), play I Spy, tell stories about what is depicted in the paintings, create a matching game with each piece and its artist. Show them examples of earlier paintings so they can see the differences in style between these and Impressionist works.
2. Understand the goal of the exhibit:
Impressionism was a rebellion against the established artistic traditions of Europe, particularly in France. It was a bridge to abstract, contemporary art over a very short period of time.
Here’s the quick and dirty guide to the art history of the exhibit:
Prior to Impressionism, the centuries-old European artistic tradition required strict adherence to certain ideas. Subjects were formally portrayed and represented either religious or upper class subjects. Technically, the emphasis was on realism (even if they stretched the truth occasionally to flatter their patrons). They created their paintings with a high level of detail and clarity using small paint brushes to make small strokes. All of which was prescribed by the Academie des Beaux Arts, the art school in Paris which set the standard for all artists. Not only did it churn out appropriately trained artists through the Ecole des Beaux Arts, it also determined the way in which art was viewed, valued, and sold. Unless an artist received their stamp of approval, none of his paintings would be seen by the public as the Academie was the only organizer of public exhibitions. The Academie also awarded prizes to their favorite artists which would both launch and sustain careers.
Then, in the 1860s and 1870s, Impressionism erupted onto the scene. Rejected by the Academie for their non-traditional technique and subjects, a group of disgruntled artists created their own organization for the purpose of presenting an alternative to the public. The founding members included many of the artists featured in Monet and the Impressionist Revolution: Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Cezanne, Morisot and Degas!
Make no mistake about it: The Impressionists were visual Punk Rockers. They turned the art world on its ear and shocked members of the Academie and the general public. What did they do that was so unexpected, so inappropriate, so idealistically challenging?? Simply put, they broke all the rules! They painted landscapes, seascapes and citiscapes rather than formal studio designs. They painted outside (en plein air). They painted quickly, just giving the “impression” of the scene instead of a realistic and formal representation. They applied their paint with quicker, shorter strokes and didn’t bother to blend their colors thoroughly. They utilized natural light to contribute to the story of their paintings. Their paintings connected their viewers and subjects and evoked feelings, memories or longings. The Impressionists shattered artistic traditions and opened the door to artistic creativity and personal vision. And it happened super fast. It only took 50 years to go from a rigid artistic tradition established for around 300 or so years to abstract art! Insane! From a musical standpoint, it’s the journey from Bing Crosby to The Clash.
**FYI, my 8-year-old couldn’t connect the dots with the art history part of the exhibit, but my 11-year-old did.**
3. The Exhibit
As you enter the exhibit you will be in a room of early impressionists. If you choose to continue straight ahead and down the stairs, you will be headed towards later impressionists. The jewels of the exhibit, the Monets, are to the left of the early impressionists. They are arranged chronologically beginning with On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt , which is a more realistically painted scene, and moving counter clockwise until you complete the journey of Monet with the Water Lilies. In this gallery, we can follow the development of Impressionism in Monet’s work.
Although not obvious in the exhibit, it is interesting to note that Monet was obsessed with light; he often painted the same scene repeatedly, only varying the time of day and/or seasons. A great visual example of this lesson can be found in Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Bjork, a wonderful book for kids (available in the gift shop and Amazon).
As you exit the Monet segment and round the corner to the right, you enter into the world of Post Impressionism where you can see the next incarnation of style. Works in this area are beginning to be more formless, less specific and more evocative of a feeling being portrayed rather than an image. The best example of this jump (for me, anyway) can be seen by comparing Cezanne’s earlier Le Bassin du Jas de Bouffan (The Pool at Jas de Bouffan) with his later Le Matin en Provence.
As you round one last corner to the right in the exhibit, you will be confronted with abstract works which have very little in common at all with art from just 50 years earlier. Soleil, Tour, Aéroplane (Sun, Tower, Airplane) by Robert Delaunay was painted in 1913 and depicts 3 very contemporary and high tech objects of the period; the Eiffel Tower, an airplane and a Ferris Wheel. You’ll have to use your imaginations to spot these things as the painting is wonderfully abstract. Another favorite of mine, Figure triste (Sad Visage), 1912 was painted by Francis Picabia. It is almost all in shades of blue and although nearly completely abstract, if you stand back as I did, you might be able to make out the image of a child being embraced while sitting on a loved one’s lap. That’s what I saw, but maybe you and your kids will see it a different way altogether!
4. Visiting the Exhibit With Your Kids
I can’t stress enough that you should engage with your kids! Don’t just shuffle from painting to painting and expect them to care about any of it. Look at the paintings up close and then walk backwards and notice how different they look each time. Ask them which are their favorites. Play "I Spy." Ask them how they are different from the versions they saw online or in the Look Book you created. Talk about what they would do if they were inside the painting. Ask them why the artists might have selected the scenes that they did.
Visiting the Albright Knox 101
1. Strollers are permitted.
2. No food or drinks are allowed in the galleries; yes, this includes bottles and sippy cups. Kids can be fortified in non-gallery areas (I suggest topping them off right before heading in) and lockers are available for you to stash your stuff.
3. There is a small, comfortable alcove in the Ladies room perfect for nursing semi-privately.
3. No touching. Have several discussions about this with your kids. No touching, no thinking about touching, no viewing so close up that the guards think you’re thinking about touching.
4. Running in slow motion is encouraged. Keep your kids close and remind them that they can run very fast as soon as you get outside.
5. Be mindful of your kids’ sight lines. Art museums are no fun if you’re so short all you see are blank walls. Pick them up, point things out, engage with them about what they are looking at.
6. Make it super special and have lunch in the café. They have a Kids Menu with cheese pizza, mac and cheese and grilled cheeses. I had a spectacular burger. Seriously. It was delish.
7. There’s a gift shop, so come up with a game plan ahead of time and discuss your policy with your kids in advance.
8. Museums can be tiring, so try to limit your visit to an hour for younger kids and an hour and a half – two hours for older ones. You don’t want their lasting impressions to be of mental fatigue.
A good book will draw you in and make you visit a different reality. Music is a powerful talisman of memories and feelings stored deep within. Paintings and sculptures have this power as well, it just takes a little practice to get there sometimes. Engaging with your kids at art exhibits and teaching them how to “look” by asking questions, observing details, and absorbing moods is a gift.
Monet and the Impressionist Revolution is on view at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo through March 20, 2016. Ticketing for this exhibition is timed and includes general admission to the museum. Timed tickets are available now. To purchase tickets, members of the general public should visit tickets.albrightknox.org, or stop by the Admissions Desk. Free tickets for AK Members are available by calling 716.270.8292, or by visiting the Admissions Desk.
Adults - $15
Seniors - $11
Students (ages 13 and up) - $11
Children 6–12 - $8
Children 5 and under - FREE
Members - FREE