Even today, a century and a half after its emergence, impressionism still fascinates people worldwide. Especially the paintings, with their loose, sketchy brushwork, bright palette and depictions of everyday scenes, are familiar to us all. The diversity of impressionism in sculpture, on the other hand, is a subject that has received far less scholarly attention to date and is unknown to the broad public. From 19 March to 28 June 2020, the Städel Museum presents the first major exhibition ever to explore the question of how the attributes of Impressionist painting – such as light, colour, movement and even ephemerality – found expression in sculpture. The show revolves primarily around five artists – Edgar Degas (1834–1917), Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), Medardo Rosso (1858–1928), Paolo Troubetzkoy (1866–1938) and Rembrandt Bugatti (1884–1916) – whose oeuvres represent the various manifestations of impressionist sculpture.
The show unites outstanding sculptures by the five artists and juxtapose them with impressionist paintings, pastels, drawings, prints and photographs by Pierre Bonnard, Antoine Bourdelle, Mary Cassatt, Camille Claudel, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Giovanni Segantini, John Singer Sargent and others. Encompassing altogether 160 works, it provides a comprehensive overview of the possibilities and challenges of impressionism in sculpture.
In addition to prominent international loans from institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, the Tate Modern in London, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris as well as numerous private collections, the exhibition will also feature works from the Städel Museum’s own rich impressionist art holdings.
Curators: Alexander Eiling (Head of Modern Art, Städel Museum) and Eva Mongi-Vollmer (Curator for Special Projects, Städel Museum)
With support from: DZ BANK AG, Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain gGmbH, Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne
With additional support from: Stadt Frankfurt, Städelfreunde 1815
The discussion of impressionism in sculpture began with the presentation of Edgar Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878/81) at the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881. There is thus no question as to the existence of impressionist sculpture. Even if it was defined quite cautiously and discussed for the most part only by art critics, it was a firmly established term until after the turn of the century.
Degas, Rodin, Rosso, Troubetzkoy and Bugatti were all referred to as “impressionist sculptors” during their lifetimes. The reasons are multifarious. On the one hand, in their artistic work they devoted themselves increasingly to contemporary – and often commonplace – themes. On the other hand, they chose materials other than the academic-classical marble, using wax, for example, not only for three-dimensional studies but also for finished sculptures. Rather than smooth, ‘closed’ surfaces, they developed lively structures that refracted the light. What is more, by leaving behind visible traces of the working process, they endowed their sculptures with an aesthetic similar to that of impressionist paintings.
In conjunction with sculpture, however, the term “impressionism” did not prevail in art historiography after World War I as it did in connection with painting. The term “impressionist sculpture” is hardly used by art-historical scholarship today. And the fact that it defies concise definition presents a further obstacle to critical appraisal of the subject. There is no nutshell for “impressionist sculpture”, any more than there is for “impressionism”. In the show, the Städel Museum joins this discourse by introducing multifaceted examples of impressionism in sculpture.
Edgar Degas (1834–1917)
Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, 1881
Bronze, H. 98 cm
European Private Collection
© Städel Museum, Photo: Horst Ziegenfusz
John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)
Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1893
Oil on canvas, 124 × 99,7 cm
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
Auguste Rodin (1840–1917)
The Head of John the Baptist, 1877/78
Terracotta, 30,5 × 23,7 × 21,1 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe
Paolo Troubetzkoy (1866–1938)
Adelaide Aurnheimer (After the Ball), 1897
Bronze, 43 × 52 cm
Edgar Degas (1834–1917)
Orchestra Musicians, 1872
Oil on canvas, 63,6 × 49,0 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Photo: © Städel Museum
Medardo Rosso (1858–1928)
The Golden Age, ca. 1902
Bronze, 52,5 × 60,1 cm
Frankfurt am Main, Städel Museum
Photo: © Städel Museum
The audio guide to the exhibition invites visitors to acquaint themselves with less well-known artworks of Impressionism – sculptures that capture the ephemerality of a moment in bronze, plaster or wax. With a duration of approximately 60 minutes, the app offers illustrated audio tracks on 30 artworks.
A comprehensive catalogue edited by Alexander Eiling and Eva Mongi-Vollmer with the assistance of Juliane Betz and Fabienne Ruppen and published by the Prestel Verlag will accompany the exhibition. With a foreword by Philipp Demandt and contributions by Juliane Betz, Stefano Bosi, Dominik Brabant, Philipp Demandt, Yvette Deseyve, Alexander Eiling, Eva Mongi-Vollmer, Astrid Reuter, Dietmar Rübel, Fabienne Ruppen and Nina Schallenberg.