Trésors Impressionnistes. La Collection Ordrupgaard à Martigny

The Ordrupgaard Collection – French Impressionist treasures at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda

“I want a red to be sonorous, to sound like a bell.  If it doesn’t turn out that way, I add more reds and other colours until I get it”.

– Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The Impressionists make a return to the Fondation Pierre Gianadda this spring bringing freshness and light to one of Europe’s most prominent art destinations. Natural landscapes, delicious still lifes and intimate portraits represent a selection from the French collection of Copenhagen’s Ordrupgaard Museum. For the past year and a half, sixty works from the Danish trove have been travelling via Paris, Ottawa, Padua and now sojourning in Martigny until mid-June. Uniting masterpieces from Pre-impressionism and the Barbizon School to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism of the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, this is the first time they have been shown together in Switzerland. 

Danish businessman Wilhelm Hansen and his wife Henny accumulated the paintings in only two years between 1916 and 1918. With guidance from advisor Théodore Duret, each assiduously chosen piece attests to a serious passion for art and includes greats like Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Sisley and Gauguin in a unique collection amassed not only for personal enjoyment but for that of the greater Scandinavian public. The works, which were handed over to the Danish State in 1952 are usually housed at Ordrupgaard, the family residence and gallery built by the Hansens (the museum was put firmly on the modern architectural map in 2005 with the addition of a curvaceous extension by Zaha Hadid). 

“Hansen began purchasing French art after numerous business trips to Paris” enthuses Martha Degiacomi, Art Historian at the Gianadda Foundation. “He was passionate about France and its cultural heritage, particularly French Impressionist art – he also contributed to financing the restoration of the ruined Reims Cathedral after the First World War”. 

Landscape painting from the Barbizon School to Impressionism 

Thirty-five of the Ordrupgaard’s forty-five landscapes are shown and offer the visitor a succinct art history lesson on the evolution of French landscape painting in the 19th century. Two Romanticist works by Ingres and Delacroix, and deliberate inclusions from the Barbizon School bridge the gap between late 18th century classical landscape to early 19th and Monet and his fellow avant-garde.

An intense pictorial composition Clairière dans la fôret from 1875 by Jules Dupré and Charles-François Daubigny’s brooding Pleine mer, temps gris from 1874 hang with masterpieces by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet, adding historical relevance to this exceptional European collection. The eight works by Corot, all produced after a second trip to Italy in 1834 represent the artist in full maturity. Among them, two small views Le Moulin à vent (1835-1840) and La Route, paysage de la Côte d’Or (1840-1860) display an attentive treatment of light and atmosphere. Three later works by Courbet deliver a Realist context; Le Change, episode de chasse au chevreuil (Franche-Comté) from 1866 is a dramatic hunting scene depicting deer at bay and a recurrent theme in the artist’s oeuvre. Courbet’s expressive use of the palette knife induces movement in an ordinarily static frozen landscape and contrasts with the smooth, detailed surface of the deer, their fleeing forms fixed rigid in mid-air.

If the Corots and Courbets anticipate the plein-air innovations of Impressionism, two early landscapes by Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley hail its joyous emergence. Le Pavé de Chailly dans la forêt de Fontainebleau painted by Monet in 1865 at the age of 25 and Sisley’s depiction of chesnut trees at La Celle-Saint-Cloud capture the natural studios frequented by artists since the end of the 18th century. Three other works by Monet – a couple of seascapes and a wonderful 1903 composition of a foggy Waterloo Bridge in blue, green and grey – typify four important periods in the artist’s career. Marine, Le Havre c.1866 and Falaise de Sainte-Adresse, temps gris c.1881 affirm the artist’s sensitivity to the tides, to pouring rain, the clouds, or the luminous qualities of a miraculously appearing sun. They are momentary instants captured by deftly applied brush strokes from the hand of this most prolific Impressionist master.

CLAUDE MONET. Le Pavé de Chailly dans la forêt de Fontainebleau,1865. Huile sur toile, 97 x 130.5 cm © Ordrupgaard, Copenhague. Photo: Anders Sune Berg

A group of six paintings by Sisley, completed between 1865 and 1896 offer a retrospective view of the artist’s tranquil, luminous landscapes. Le Déchargement des péniches à Billancourt from 1877 and L’inondation. Bords de la Seine, Bougival (1873) are colourful panoramic compositions in which the bucolic ambience of la « douce France » is captured in vivid colour.

Another monographic ensemble is dedicated to Camille Pissarro, the dean of the Impressionist painters whose major creative periods are represented by six canvases dating between 1876 and 1897. Drowsy, dappled light and shadow pervade the Coin de jardin à Éragny (la maison de l’artiste) from 1897 where figures sit, momentarily immersed in the warmth of the day. In other scenes, plum trees in flower, a river bank and snow-covered terrain contrast with two Parisian cityscapes of the Rue Saint-Lazare and morning sun on the Rue Saint-Honoré.

First impressions last 

Portraits and interiors by Renoir, Berthe Morisot and Edgar Degas present an exceptional Impressionist gallery. Portrait d’une Roumaine (Mme Iscovesco) is an audacious, chromatic mélange of blue, red and yellow by Renoir from 1877. Pigments are applied with varying intensity; the purplish blue of the model’s clothes is in energetic contrast with crimson lips and rouge-pink hues on lemon, repeated in the hair and face brought to prominence with white highlights. Morisot contributes two works from 1874 and 1885, Femme à l’éventail. Portrait de Madame Marie Hubbard and a fragrant Jeune Fille sur l’herbe. Le Corsage rouge (Mlle Isabelle Lambert). Delicate yet dynamic touches position the youthful girl against whirling greenery and are characteristic of Morisot’s ephemeral compositions. Also on display is a liberally-painted Baigneuses by Paul Cézanne from around 1895 which constitutes an essential milestone in the evolution of a theme which the artist favoured until his death.

BERTHE MORISOT. « Jeune Fille sur l’herbe ». Le Corsage rouge (Mademoiselle Isabelle Lambert), 1885. Huile sur toile, 74 x 60 cm © Ordrupgaard, Copenhague. Photo: Anders Sune Berg

Still lifes and the best dessert in the house

Four delectable still lifes are included in the show. Henri Matisse’s fauvist Flowers and fruits from 1909 sits with Gauguin’s Deux vases de fleurs (1890-91) and a rather unexpected Still life by outlier Odilon Redon from 1901. Emanating from the artist’s colour period, Redon has abandoned the pervasive black and white of his earlier charcoal drawings and lithographs to “embrace colour” as he once declared.  The objects in this later work are rather unusual from an artist whose oeuvre favoured imaginary floral motifs. Sharper, less dream-like and more precise, it is unlike any other piece in the French collection.

Edouard Manet’s 1882 Basket of pears returns to the Gianadda, having previously tempted visitors at a retrospective back in 1996. Painted during the artist’s final summer before his death in April 1883, it typifies the smaller works from late Manet. Designed with delicate simplicity, chartreuse-green fruits sit isolated against a softly-tinted background. It would be difficult to find a more mouth-watering bowl and no wonder it became one of Hansen’s favourite paintings, presented to his dinner guests as the best dessert in the house! 

EDOUARD MANET. Corbeille de poires, 1882. Huile sur toile, 35 x 41 cm © Ordrupgaard, Copenhague. Photo: Anders Sune Berg

Gauguin’s imaginary gardens

One of the Ordrupgaard’s triumphs is an ensemble of eight works by Paul Gauguin from 1881 to 1902. Taken from the collection of the artist’s Danish widow, Mette Sophie Gad-Gauguin they draw inspiration from Breton lands and southern French landscapes to imagine a paradise lost. Paysage de Pont-Aven, Vendanges, Misères humaines and Les Arbres bleus. Vous y passerez, la belle! all from 1888 radiate colour; lissom trees in sapphire pay homage to Japanese prints and are sensational.

PAUL GAUGUIN. « Les Arbres bleus! ». « Vous y passerez, la belle! », 1888 , Huile sur toile de jute, 92 x 73 cm © Ordrupgaard, Copenhague. Photo: Anders Sune Berg

Posing amongst the gardens of Gauguin’s mind is a young French girl, Jeanne Goupil or ‘Vaïté’. Painted on Tahiti, her pale, mask-like complexion gazes out from pink and blue patterned wallpaper and asserts Gauguin’s Symbolistic bias. She is a hypnotic example of the artist’s rare commissioned portraits whose presence fits in the wider collection of undoubtedly some of the best examples of French 19th century paintings around.

PAUL GAUGUIN. Portrait of a young girl, Vaite (Jeanne) Goupil , 1896. Oil on canvas, 75 × 65 cm. © Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen. Photo: Anders Sune Berg

Impressionist treasures The Ordrupgaard Collection
Fondation Pierre Gianadda
Martigny, Switzerland
Until 16 June 2019

Toute reproduction interdite
© 2019