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Maurice DenisShannon and I went to the de Young today to see their post-Impressionism exhibition, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. As I mentioned in this journal before, I've never been terribly fond of Cézanne or Gauguin, but today I saw their work in a different light -- as the gateway between Impressionism and Cubism -- and that historical context made them much more interesting to me. Always before, I was looking at their works individually, and I didn't like the severe outlines, the geometrically simplified shapes, and the blocks of fairly homogenous color, but when put in a historical context they become fascinating. The de Young is going to be hosting a Picasso exhibition in 2011, and I'm now quite interested to see it as an outgrowth of my beloved, transgressive, influential Impressionism.

Cezanne's quarryOne of the paintings that showed me most clearly the transition from Impressionism to Cubism was a painting by Cézanne of a quarry. The brush strokes still look rather Impressionistic (especially the sky and greenery), and the blendings of color look familiar to me as well, but the shapes are decidedly geometrical. I can definitely see Picasso waiting in the wings. There's a spot in the upperish rightish area that actually looks almost like a puzzle piece from the game Rumis! The exhibition *did* include some of Gauguin's Tahitian island girls, of course, but I found *them* more interesting this time around, too. Maybe my taste in art is just expanding in my old age. But I do think the sense of a historical context is making a huge difference.

Gauguin: Self Portrait with Yellow JesusOne of the strangest paintings was Gauguin's "Self Portrait with Yellow Christ," which I thought was just bizarre. I mean ... who paints a portrait of themselves with Jesus in the background? Not only Jesus, but dead, crucified Jesus. Who paints themselves with a dead body? And I'm not a Christian, but this seems kinda arrogant to me, especially when you put yourself in the foreground, much larger than Christ. Not to mention that the Jesus in the painting has mysteriously green boobies, as if someone covered in finger paint had been feeling him up while he hung there, defenseless. I had great difficulty imagining the mindset of the painter when he chose this subject matter and composition. Weird.

van GoghSpeaking of odd artistic mindsets while painting, I particularly liked one of the van Gogh paintings in the exhibit -- a vase of orange fritillaries against a teal background -- which looked kinda crazy to me. The brush strokes were very linear in the table (as is often the case with his paintings, all lines and swirls), while the background was all multicolored dots. The flowers themselves were interspersed with sort of spiky-looking greenery that seemed vaguely sinister to me. But what I really loved about the painting was that shimmering blue background, all speckled with light and shadow. Not quite pointillist, not quite divisionist, but very characteristically van Gogh. I loved loved loved it. The exhibition was showing one of his starry night paintings, as well, which stunned both Shannon and me into awestruck silence for a few minutes, but I already knew that the starry night paintings amazed me. The fritillaries surprised me out of nowhere. There was also a very famous painting depicting his bedroom at Arles, which I like. (I've actually been to Arles, as my mom is a big van Gogh fan and wanted to see his grave, right beside his beloved brother's, both covered in ivy. I didn't much care for van Gogh at the time, so I wasn't terribly impressed, but I've since developed quite an affection for his work.)

Maurice Denis: The MusesAnother artist also surprised me out of nowhere: Maurice Denis. He painted works that aren't my usual kind of thing, but there were a number of his works in the exhibition that I really liked. The image of green trees that I posted at the beginning of this journal entry is one of his paintings. Very simple blocks of color, but I found it oddly interesting. Like I said, it's not my usual kind of thing, but I appreciate the graceful curves and lines of the trunks, the surprising combination of muted and bright colors, the little touches of dark leaves near the top of the painting which give a different sense of scale ... I don't know. I just like it. It didn't impress Shannon, but there was another Denis painting we both liked: The Muses. I just love the composition, with the women ranged throughout the space, both in front of and behind the trees, both near and far, in small groupings here and there. What I love most, though, are the leaves, how they dangle decoratively from the trees, but also form a sort of elegantly patterned carpet on the ground, supplying the only significant splashes of bright color. (I say "significant" because there's a bit of color in a book in the foreground, too, but it's pretty small.) The composition of this painting actually makes me think of Magritte's painting Blank Signature, in which a horsewoman weaves in and out of the trees.

They even had a few of Monet's paintings, though they weren't ones I particularly admired. I'm more of a water lily fan, I suppose. There was also quite a bit of Seurat, Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec, and even some Renoir and Degas.

Over all, a very interesting and educational exhibition. I may go back to enjoy it on a less crowded day, as today many people who had the day off work were milling around aimlessly with their family members and friends.

Note: If you want to see a variety of the paintings that were in the exhibition, you can check out this webpage.

Note #2: One of the highlights of the day actually took place *outside* the museum. Shannon and I were sitting in the sun in the garden, having a snack, and a very brazen squirrel begged me for some of the trail mix I was munching on. So I threw him an almond, which he devoured with great relish, and when he was done he raced menacingly at me, as if trying to scare me into dropping the rest of my bounty. I threw him a hazelnut, and he was temporarily mollified, but when he had finished that, and he found that I was not paying attention, he jumped right up on our bench and climbed across my backpack toward my lap (where the baggy of nuts and dried fruit was sitting). What cheek! And then one of his friends arrived, having heard rumors that almonds and hazelnuts were to be had, that there was an easy mark throwing out delicious treats, and I was soft-hearted enough to give both of them more nuts before Shannon and I headed back into the museum. Wild animals! In the middle of the city! Climbing across my backpack! Neato keen!

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