Double Take

There are echoes of the Old Masters in this great Impressionism show.

Opposite the van Beyeren/Cézanne pairing, three paintings and a print have been hung together as a coherent group. The relationship between these four pieces begins with a School of Velázquez painting, "Meeting of Thirteen People," done in the seventeenth century by an unknown artist. In it, men with swords are arranged in an informal line across the horizontally oriented panel. Manet, as it happens, was not only a big fan of Velázquez, but, as was the custom of the time, also liked to paint copies of his paintings — or those thought to be by Velázquez. So hanging below "Meeting of Thirteen People" is Manet's copy of it, "The Little Cavaliers." Manet used this painting as the basis for a print with the same title, and that is also nearby. Now comes the pièce de résistance: Renoir's "Still Life With Bouquet," in the background of which is a depiction of Manet's print, partly obscured by the bouquet. This quartet makes a convincing case that the Impressionists did indeed look to the Old Masters, and bringing in that Renoir incorporating the Manet copy is the cherry on top.

In another example in Inspiring Impressionism, Degas paints a line-for-line reproduction of a Mantegna, a common practice of the period. These paintings were not meant to be exhibited as finished works, but rather as practice exercises for the artists, so it's interesting to see them included along with their mature pieces.

Related to this method of copying art from the past was the use of plaster casts of classical and renaissance sculpture, which stood in for people as models for paintings and sculpture. Cézanne's interest in a plaster cast he owned is highlighted in four works, all dating to the 1890s, displayed together along the back wall of the Anschutz. To the left is a showcase in which "Putto," a plaster cast of a cherub done in the seventeenth century by François Du Quesnoy, is on view; Cézanne's cast of this cherub is in his preserved studio in Aix-en-Provence, but since plaster casts, by their very nature, are done in multiples, this example from the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm is identical to it. On the wall to the right are pencil drawings of "Putto" and, next to them, "Still Life With Statuette," wherein "Putto" is set in an oil-on-canvas still life with pears, peaches and some blue drapery. In the drawings, and especially in the painting, Cézanne translates the neo-classicism of Du Quesnoy's "Putto" into his own brand of post-Impressionist abstraction. And unlike the Manet and Degas copies, these Cézannes are not rehearsal pieces. In fact, they're exemplars of his widely influential style.

"Still Life With Statuette," by Cézanne, oil on canvas.
"Still Life With Statuette," by Cézanne, oil on canvas.

Details

Through May 25, Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverart-museum.org. For a slide show sample of what's on view in this exhibit, go to slideshow.westword.com.

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It's impossible to point out all the amazing things in Inspiring Impressionism — there are over one hundred works — but I have to note the real depth here for some of the Impressionists, including Monet and Renoir as well as Cézanne. If you have any interest in understanding why so many of these artists are the standard-bearers of art history, or even if you simply like looking at great pictures, you owe it to yourself to buy a ticket for Inspiring Impressionism. I know I plan to see it again.

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