Alibi V.12 No.44 • Oct 30-Nov 5, 2003 

Art Article

Tricks of Light

Millet to Matisse at the Albuquerque Museum

"Woman in Oriental Dress" by Henri Matisse
"Woman in Oriental Dress" by Henri Matisse

Such a seething crowd at the Albuquerque Museum on a Thursday afternoon is a very rare sight. A sizeable line snaked in front of the ticket counter. Inside, the main gallery was filled with people eager to see the exhibit that everyone in town has been talking about for a month.

The exhibit in question, as you've probably already heard, is Millet to Matisse, a traveling exhibit consisting of 64 French paintings culled from the collection of the Kelingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow, Scotland. Boasting names like Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Cezanne and of course Millet and Matisse, the exhibit covers the period roughly from 1830 to 1930 when France was the indisputable center of the art universe. Not all the artists in this show were French, but all of them came to France at some crucial point in their careers, because that's what all artists who wanted to make a name for themselves did at the time.

"Going to Work" by Jean-Francois Millet
"Going to Work" by Jean-Francois Millet

If you've been to the Musée de'Orsay in Paris, you might be somewhat disappointed by this show. This exhibit doesn't include any of the key jewels of 19th and 20th century French art. Then again, even though Millet to Matisse is filled primarily with minor works by the rock star gods of French painting, it's still a very impressive exhibit, especially by Albuquerque standards. At the very least, it certainly provides a fine overview of the evolution of techniques and art philosophies from the period just before the advent of French Impressionism to the period just after.

The show is filled with tiny gems. Renoir's "The Painter's Garden" contains all the bright, manic phosphorescence of the artist's better-known work, the flora glowing brightly behind Renoir's dreamy impressionistic gauze. Adolphe Hervier's minuscule "Village Scene, Barbizon," with it's high, distorted perspective, is one of the highlights of the show as is Cezanne's unfinished "The Star Ridge with the King's Peak," which contains much of the raw power of his best landscapes.

From the glaring color schemes of Fauvists like Matisse and Derain to the pre-Cubist experiments of Braque and Picasso, this exhibit is mostly a pleasure. To make it even more enjoyable, the organizers have done an excellent job of embellishing the exhibit space. With the music of Satie floating through the divided galleries, a comfy sitting area with relevant books and two computer stations providing web pages with supplemental information, it's easy to spend a long afternoon here.

Kelingrove is one of 11 institutions that make up Glasgow Museums. Stocked by donations from Glasgow's affluent and visionary collectors from the 19th and 20th centuries, the gallery boasts the most important municipal collection of French paintings in Britain.

I'm sure the Albuquerque Museum had to do some fancy finagling to get the exhibit to come here. We're very lucky to have it. Make sure you stop by the museum before this rare show skips town.

Millet to Matisse runs through Jan. 4 at the Albuquerque Museum. $9 general, $8 New Mexico residents, $7 seniors, $1 kids 12 and under. 243-7255.