Denver Art Museum exhibits show French society over centuries

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Three related shows meld together flawlessly at the Denver Art Museum to give local art lovers a welcoming visit to Paris and its environs. Beloved artists appear in more than one collection, showing how they bridged across years and segments of society and from academic standards to joyful renderings of sunshine and the outdoors. “Passport to Paris” continues through Feb. 9, 2014, in the Hamilton Building.

“Court to Cafe: Three Centuries of French Artworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum” is the entry point, and it features 50 works from the collection of the famous museum in Hartford, Conn. These works begin with 17th-century paintings of religious scenes, mythological subjects, landscapes, still lifes and genre scenes and extend to the early 19th century.

This DAM installation in the second floor Anschutz Gallery is especially well-designed and features high color, hand-stenciled walls, architectural moldings and decorative art from the museum's own collection, such as damask chairs and small furniture pieces. Music plays in the background.

Another pleasing touch is the inclusion of several stylish white dresses, matching the ones depicted in paintings of intimate home scenes. They are on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Since works range from the early 1600s to the early 1900s, the visitor finds early works by Edgar Degas, Camille Pissaro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec and Claude Monet here, plus later works in the two subsequent exhibits, weaving threads of the story together.

Next stop is “Drawing Room: an Intimate Look at French Drawings from the Esmond Bradley Martin Collection,” a collection that is kept at the DAM, although its owner lives elsewhere. It is on the second floor in the Martin and McCormick Gallery. Included are 39 works on paper in a range of techniques. Sketches by artists from across the time period draw a viewer up close to appreciate the lines — in fact, there are some magnifying lenses provided for those who need assistance in appreciating the delicate works.

For the first time, Impressionist paintings from the Frederic C. Hamilton collection are shown in what may be the most popular segment: “Nature as Muse.” Some works from the DAM collection are blended into this collection in the Gallagher Family Gallery on the first floor, which focuses on landscape. In a press tour, DAM director Christoph Heinrich pointed out that oil paints became available in tubes in the mid-1800s, enabling artists to work outdoors in that medium, “en plein air.” Because many Colorado artists prefer to work outdoors, it is expected that they will especially relate to “Nature as Muse” with its sunlit orchards and gardens.

Related programming is extensive throughout the exhibit time. See denverartmuseum.org for scheduling. Of particular note is a collaboration with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, which provided a soundtrack for the Court to Cafe exhibit in advance and featured French music in its Nov. 1-3 concerts. Every Saturday at 1 p.m., various symphonic ensembles will present a 45-minute performance at the museum, featuring French masterworks with commentary to place them in context.

The first-floor studio space will become a drawing studio, with local artists demonstrating and teaching on weekends.

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