From Renoir to Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée de l'Orangerie

Detail of The Luncheon on the Grass by Paul Cézanne on view in From Renoir to Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée de l'Orangerie

From Renoir to Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée de l'Orangerie

November 12, 2000 to February 25, 2001

Most great American art museums from New York to Chicago contain masterpieces acquired from the visionary Parisian art dealer Paul Guillaume (1891–1934), whose collection was showcased in this extraordinary exhibition. Indeed, Guillaume’s brief career, beginning in 1914, when he opened his first gallery to specialize in African art and contemporary European painting, until his death at age 42 in 1934, coincided with an unprecedented expansion in the number of private museums worldwide. Everywhere from Tokyo to Moscow to Washington, D.C., individual collectors set in motion plans for independent institutions, committed to modern and non-Western art on equal terms with the old master art of European civilization.

Some of these innovative collectors, such as Duncan Phillips, who privately opened America’s first museum of modern art in the nation’s capital in 1921, provided an atmosphere rather like that of an exclusive private residence in which to view the art, and in 1922 the eccentric Dr. Albert C. Barnes began plans for his “Foundation” museum to open in Merion, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. Guillaume, who was Barnes’s principal agent in France, became sufficiently wealthy himself to begin to plan his own townhouse museum of modern art in Paris no later than 1927. The Great Depression and his untimely death prevented the realization of this idea. His widow, Juliette (“Domenica”) Lacaze, remarried to the architect Jean Walter yet managed to preserve many of her husband’s favorite works, to considerably enrich this collection with her own acquisitions, and finally to negotiate its donation to the French state, thus preserving Guillaume’s plan for a “private” museum, albeit within the great French public museum system.

Paralleling efforts by such artists as Gustave Moreau and Auguste Rodin to create museums of their own works, many late-19th- and early-20th-century collectors sought to create collections with multiple works by particular artists. Planning to establish his own museum of Western art in Tokyo, the Japanese tycoon Kojiro Matsukata, for example, collected more than two dozen works by Claude Monet in the early 1920s, while Barnes, whose collection eventually contained some 150 works by Renoir, was famous in Paris for having bought all the available works by the then relatively obscure painter Chaim Soutine in a single day, 50 to 100 in number, according to different accounts of the event. Following that same pattern of deep commitment to particular artists, Guillaume focused his collecting on a relatively small group of artists—Renoir, Cézanne, Rousseau, Derain, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, and Soutine—with the result that his collection amounts to a medley of one-artist exhibitions.

Collecting this way, Guillaume, like Phillips, Barnes, or the other 1920s museum founder-collectors, hoped to create a sort of “temple” of modern art to act as a magnet for creative appreciation of visual culture. When in 1924 Barnes described his visits to Guillaume’s commercial gallery, he ignored any business dimensions as unimportant:

        Practically all important French painters and sculptors visit the temple with
        regularity . . . One summer afternoon . . . [I encountered] Roger Fry [the influential
        British critic who had served as curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from
        1906 to 1910] and had a talk on Renoir and Cézanne, which I shall remember for
        the rest of my life. The atmosphere of the place is imperturbably peaceful . . .
        How many discussions I have had there with artists, connoisseurs, directors of
        museums from all parts of the world I could not say because I have visited the
        temple a hundred times and nearly always found interesting people there.

Indeed, Guillaume’s financial success surely stemmed from his ability to inspire collectors by his example to consider one’s own place of business or one’s own home as a new kind of private museum where modern art and art from around the world could be epicenters of civilized appreciation of the arts. Visitors to From Renoir to Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée de l’Orangerie were, therefore, able to contemplate more than a suite of carefully edited one-artist exhibitions. For, taken as a whole, the Guillaume collection still preserves a key developmental stage from the evolution of art museums, when single individuals took it as the ultimate challenge to define the essentials of art and share them with visitors who would be connoisseurs.

The need to renovate the historic Orangerie building created the opportunity for this exhibition of 81 works to tour Asia, North America, and Australia. The Kimbell Art Museum was the only venue in the United States. When the exhibition closed at the Kimbell on February 25, 2001, it traveled to the final stop on the tour, Australia.

A fully illustrated catalogue was published by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and can be purchased from the Museum Shop for $35.00 (paper) and $50.00 (cloth).

The exhibition was organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in cooperation with the Musée de l’Orangerie. The Fort Worth showing of the exhibition was organized by the Kimbell Art Museum, in cooperation with the Musée de l’Orangerie.

Caption: Paul Cézanne, The Luncheon on the Grass (detail), 1873–75, oil on canvas. Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, RF 1963-11