Going Green

Impressionists get back to nature at the Denver Art Museum.

Up next are the French impressionists, with a quartet of Monets setting the tone. None are as good as the DAM's own "Waterloo Bridge," but all are worth seeing. The most notable is "Le Palais Ducal (The Doge's Palace)," from 1908, depicting the structure in Venice and, even more noticeable, its reflection in the lagoon. True, the subject isn't one that's associated with Monet, as would be haystacks, the Rouen Cathedral or water lilies, but the brushwork and sense of color are signature Monet.

Surely, the chief reason people like impressionist paintings is because they're so darned pretty, but for scholars, the attraction is in the way the style lays the groundwork for the development of abstraction. One of the Monets, "Le Iles à Port-Villez," from 1897, really makes this point, because it's little more than some scribbles filling out amorphous shapes, making it virtually abstract-expressionist.

It's the American section of the show that is the strongest part of the exhibit, however, even though most of the paintings done by the least-known artists are here. Not that there aren't some big names — William Glackens, Childe Hassam and George Innes among them — but who's Robert Spencer? Ever heard of him? I haven't.

Claude Monet's "Le Palais Ducal," oil on canvas.
Claude Monet's "Le Palais Ducal," oil on canvas.


Through September 7, Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org.For a complete slide show of this exhibit, go to slideshow.westword.com.

Looking at Spencer's crisp, modernist and virtually geometric depiction of the back of a rundown building in the painting "The White Tenement," from 1913, it's hard to believe he doesn't have a higher profile. That's also true for other little-known artists in Age of Impressionism, such as Willard Metcalf and Charles Hawthorne.

Among the works by better-recognized artists are two of my favorites from the period, John Twachtman and Ernest Lawson, both of whom pushed their personal interpretations of impressionism and, even more so, post-impressionism. Lawson's "Garden Landscape," from 1915, is an incredibly dense rendering of an overgrown garden. Smeary gestures convey the foliage, while dots and blobs of bright colors stand in for flowers. Lawson is a great painter, and way too expressionistic to be truly considered an impressionist.

Seeing his piece made me think about the fact that Lawson lived and worked in Colorado for several years, teaching at the Broadmoor Academy in Colorado Springs. As you might expect, he painted views of the Rockies during his stay. Wouldn't it be neat if the DAM made an effort to pull these paintings together and give Lawson a solo made up of his Western paintings? I know I'd love to see it.

Before I conclude, I want to mention another subtle aspect of this show: the gorgeous frames on many of the paintings. In the past twenty years, many museums have scrapped original frames and replaced them with more conservation-worthy — though less interesting — mountings. Apparently the Brooklyn Museum has resisted this trend, and those who take in Age of Impressionism are among the beneficiaries of that wise call.

With its refreshing depictions of greenery, I think this exhibit, which runs all summer, would be a great way to cool off on a hot day.

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