Camera And Painter: An Exhibit Of Post-Impressionist Painters And How The Camera Influenced Their Creative Vision, At The Phillips

The invention of the Kodak handheld camera in 1888 gave post-impressionist artists a new source of inspiration. Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard is the first exhibition to focus on how the new technology energized the artists’ working methods and creative vision. Presenting over 200 photographs along with over 70 paintings and prints from renowned international collections, the exhibition is on view at the Phillips from Feb. 4 through May 6, 2012.

Top: George Hendrik Breitner, Girl in a kimono (Geesje Kwak) in Breitner’s studio on Lauriersgracht, Amsterdam, n.d. Gelatin silver print, framed: 12 1/4 x 15 1/4 in. Collection RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History) The Hague. Above: George Hendrik Breitner, Girl in Red Kimono, Geesje Kwak, 1893–95. Oil on canvas, 24 x 19 1/2 in. Noortman Master Paintings, Amsterdam. On behalf of private collection, Netherlands.

Pierre Bonnard, George Hendrik Breitner, Maurice Denis, Henri Evenepoel, Henri Rivière, Félix Vallotton, and Edouard Vuillard used the camera to capture intimate moments with their family and trips to the countryside with friends. They sometimes translated their photographic images directly into their paintings, but more often took photographs simply to explore the world. When viewed alongside the artists’ paintings, drawings, and prints, the snapshots reveal fascinating parallels in radical foreshortening, cropping, lighting, silhouettes, and vantage points. Snapshot presents a lively dialogue among the various media.

Several of the artists took photographs together, photographed one another, and shared the results. The artists’ combined output of over 10,000 photographs demonstrates their love affair with the camera, though most of the photographs in the exhibition are unknown and previously unpublished. Technical perfection in photography was rarely the goal, although they repeated subjects and compositions to study certain effects. This is the first exhibition to explore these photographs not merely as personal documents, but as pioneering experiments of a new medium.

Maurice Denis, Marthe offering Bernadette a bunch of grapes, Le Pouldu, September 15, 1890. Negative on nitrate cellulose film, 1 1/2 x 2 1/4 in. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Gift of Mme Claire Denis, through the Société des Amis du Musée d’Orsay, 2006.

“Seeing the private photographs of these artists—especially Bonnard and Vuillard, whose works are pivotal to The Phillips Collection—reveals their keen eye for the modern world. The unguarded snapshots of their loved ones and the city streets allow us to see life as the artists saw it, a perspective Duncan Phillips ardently championed,” says Director Dorothy Kosinski.

Maurice Denis, Maternité à la fenêtre (au Le Pouldu) (Motherhood at the Window [in Le Pouldu]), c.1899. Oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 18 1/8 in. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Paul Jamot bequest, 1941 (RF 1941–42). © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Henri Evenepoel, Louise at Wépion, summer 1897. Modern gelatin silver print, 2011, from original negative, 1 1/2 x 2 in. © Archives of Contemporary Art in Belgium–Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.

Henri Evenepoel, Le Chapeau Blanc (The White Hat), 1897. Oil on canvas, 22 3/8 x 18 1/8 in. Collection of Eric and Louise Franck, London.

The idea for Snapshot was born in the 1980s when exhibition curator Elizabeth Easton discovered a rich collection of photographs by Vuillard. Determined to reveal the intriguing and unexpected ways post-impressionist artists used the new handheld camera, she collaborated with Phillips Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone, Indianapolis Museum of Art Senior Curator Ellen Lee, and Van Gogh Museum Head of Exhibitions Edwin Becker to study hundreds of photographs in museum archives and private collections, including the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The Musée d’Orsay has loaned nearly 100 photographs and paintings to the exhibition, and its chief curator of photography at the time, Françoise Heilburn, provided substantial expertise.

The Artists
Pierre Bonnard (1876–1947), Maurice Denis (1870–1943), Félix Vallotton (1865–1925), and Edouard Vuillard (1868–1940) were the best known members of the Nabis, a Parisian avant-garde group with a graphic and decorative aesthetic. They studied at the Académie Julian and their paintings were frequently in public exhibitions. The Nabis championed the integration of art and life, drawing upon nature for inspiration. Henri Rivière (1864–1951), designer, engineer, and choreographer of the popular Shadow Theater in Paris, was a leader of the era’s printmaking revival, infusing the bold style of Japanese woodcuts into his images of contemporary France.

The exhibition introduces George Hendrik Breitner (1857–1923) and Henri Evenepoel (1872–1899) to American audiences, linking their paintings and photographs with the work of the Nabis for the first time. Born in Rotterdam, Breitner painted primarily in Amsterdam, depicting the lives of the working class. Although he exhibited abroad, his fame was limited to the Netherlands. Evenepoel was born in Nice to Belgian parents, but lived in Paris during the 1890s until his untimely death at age 27. A student of Gustave Moreau and close friend of Henri Matisse, Evenepoel left behind some 1000 drawings and paintings of Parisian life.

Edouard Vuillard, The two sunshades, 1902. Gelatin silver print, 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. Private collection. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Félix Vallotton, Sur La Plage (On the Beach), 1899. Oil on board, 16 1/2 x 18 7/8 in. Private collection, Switzerland.

The richly illustrated 248-page exhibition catalogue is published by Yale University Press in association with The Phillips Collection, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Edited by curator Elizabeth Easton with contributions from Phillips Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone and Indianapolis Museum of Art Senior Curator Ellen W. Lee, the catalogue also includes essays by leading scholars from the George Eastman House, Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay, Princeton University, Netwerk (a contemporary art center in Belgium), Fondation Félix Vallotton, and the Rijksmuseum. Essays about the development of the camera and amateur photography are complemented with entries about each artist. The book is available in the museum shop for $50.

Exhibition Organization And Sponsors
Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard is co-organized by The Phillips Collection, the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The exhibition features exceptional loans from the Musée d’Orsay. Generous support is provided by John and Gina Despres and the Trellis Fund. The exhibition is funded in part by The Florence Gould Foundation with additional support from Craig M. Gayhardt. The media partner is Capitol File.

Snapshot opened at the Van Gogh Museum, Oct. 14, 2011, to Jan. 8, 2012, and is on display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art from June 8 to Sept. 2, 2012.

About The Phillips Collection
The Phillips Collection is one of the world’s most distinguished collections of impressionist and modern American and European art. Stressing the continuity between art of the past and present, it offers a strikingly original and experimental approach to modern art by combining works of different nationalities and periods in displays that change frequently. The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art, has an active collecting program and regularly organizes acclaimed special exhibitions, many of which travel internationally.

The Phillips Collection is a private, non-government museum, supported primarily by donations.

Visitor Information
The Phillips Collection is located in the heart of Washington’s historic Dupont Circle neighborhood, at 1600 21st Street, NW, near the Dupont Circle Metro (Q Street exit). Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm; Thursdays until 8:30pm; Sunday, 11am to 6pm. Closed Mondays and New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.