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14 September, 2012

White on White

Normandy in Painting: an art history guide and escape from an industrial estate

For the first time, it will be possible to see a collection of paintings, dedicated to Normandy, by the most noted realists, romantics, post-impressionists and impressionists, in Ukraine. The exhibition features Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Théodore Géricault, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Raoul Dufy, Auguste Renoir, Charles Pecrus and many others.

The collection, titled Normandy in Painting/Art in Normandy was compiled over a period of ten years. Today, it is composed of more than 120 paintings, dated 1750-1950. Permanently displayed at a former convent, the Abbaye aux Dames, which is also home to the Regional Council of Lower Normandy, the collection is successfully travelling the world. The directorate chose 57 paintings to display in Ukraine. Before the collection reached Kyiv, art lovers had the opportunity to see it in Lviv, where it caused quite a stir.

In fact, the show serves as a guide of sorts, presenting a history of 19th century art. Despite various genres, themes, schools and tones of the paintings, their geographic roots have a visible impact on the ambience of the show where soft, subdued colours prevail. The various shades of grey do not depress the viewer, while the white does not have its typical light and lofty effect. That’s the way it is – the ever changing nature of Northern France. One will not find the sun in its pure form here – it’s hidden in the gloomy silhouette of a boat on the coast of La Manche or enfolded in thick clouds by Jules Achille Noël with his demonic fusion of dark grey and yellow. Or a ray of sunshine falls on Jacques Villon’s aristocratic vacationers in Under the Tent on the Beach, Blonville. People, boats, cliffs, the sea and elements of everyday rural life – all of this is infused with a sense of cloudy serenity. What could possibly be better for the Kyiv audience, weary of the summer heat?

According to the exhibition’s organizers, 19th century artists fled to Normandy from the encroachment of industry in big cities, searching for harmony with nature and new ideas. Normandy turned into an epicentre of new major trends in the art of that epoch and eventually led to the arrival of 20th century modernism.

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