Return to its roots
In “The Impressionist Revolution: Forty Years of French Art at the Dixon,” the Dixon Gallery and Gardens places its collection in perspective and looks back at the legacy of its founding and existence. Although the museum, under present director Kevin Sharp and his predecessor Jay Kamm, moved away from the guidelines of its original charter — to collect and exhibit French Impressionist art and related movements and materials — the work that provided the impetus for its existence remains at its heart. The museum’s 40th anniversary is an appropriate moment for such a retrospective gaze.
The Dixon was founded in 1976 after a bequest from Margaret and Hugo Dixon, both of whom died in 1974, left to a foundation their neo-georgian house, built in 1941, and 17-acre estate at Park and Cherry along with their collection of primarily French Impressionist paintings. In the 40 intervening years, the collection has grown by purchase and donation, while the institution grew physically, both as a museum and as a center for gardening pleasure and education.
Hugo Dixon, a cotton merchant — or as we say in Memphis, a cotton man — began his collecting with English artists. His first purchase, in 1944, was “Venice” by William James (17301780), a follower of Italian artist Canaletto. He moved toward Impressionism when he acquired a charcoal- and pastel-on-paper sketch, “Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe,” by Edgar Degas. Dixon was persuaded to buy the Degas by John Rewald, the noted scholar and author of “The History of Impressionism,” the standard text on the subject, who exerted a subtle influence in guiding the Dixons in their acquisitions. “Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe” remains one of the vital centerpieces of the collection.
Visitors to this exhibition might well ask, “Where’s all the Impressionism?” Yes, there are a number of works by Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir, Cassatt and artists more minor and peripheral, given to the museum by the Dixons and other donors, but the show starts in 1825 with “Sleeping Woman,” a small chalk-on-paper piece by Hippolyte Paul Delaroche, and concludes in 1945 with Chagall’s colorful and surreal
Forty years of French ART AT The Dixon’
Through July 17 at Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 4339 Park. Call 901-761-5250, or visit dixon.org.
painting, “The Dream.” In other words, “The Impressionist Revolution: Forty Years of French Art at the Dixon” actually functions as a survey of French art (with omissions) over the course of 120 years, though emphasizing the ferment of the decades between 1870 and 1900.
Didactic panels and labels carefully take viewers through the phases of the Barbizon School of painting outdoors and into the beginnings of Impressionism, in which a handful of artists rebelled against the dictates of the annual academic Salon exhibitions and, starting in 1874, launched a series of outsider shows that challenged conceptions of theme and subject matter and promulgated radical techniques of brushwork and approaches to color and light.
By the 1880s, a younger generation began to expand or alter the ideas of Impressionism, as such artists as Seurat, Gauguin, Cezanne and Matisse, or Bonnard and Vuillard, who were, respectively, only 7 and 6 years old when the first Impressionist exhibition occurred, absorbed what Monet and Pissarro had started and moved beyond. It’s always a pleasure to see again such wonderful paintings as Gauguin’s “Bathing in Front of the Port of Pont-avon,” from 1886, one of Hugo and Margaret Dixon’s best purchases, or Cezanne’s “Trees and Rocks, Near the Chateau Noir,” circa 1900-1906, a masterpiece of a reduced autumnal palette and truncated forms, or Henri Fantin-latour’s two small floral still-life paintings, executed in 1869 and 1899, both from the original Dixon bequest.
The present exhibition is not the first time that the museum has focused on its collection from a sense of renewal and seriousness. Surveys were mounted in 2012 and 2004, but neither was as comprehensive as “The Impressionist Revolution: Forty Years of French Art at the Dixon,” which fills every gallery in the museum, including the Residence. The chief value is that this show disabuses viewers of the notion that the history of French art is linear: Barbizon School, Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Cubism. The reality is that all art movements are filtered and blurred around the edges, that there are hangers-on and outliers, artists who may cling to or exploit the past or anticipate the future in various ways. All are welcome, whether major artists and innovators or minor figures and followers; all contribute their talents and visions. Gallery Ten Ninety one, 7151 Cherry Farms Road (WKNO Digital Media Center), Cordova: Artists’ Link: “Spring Mix,” through May 30. Opening reception 2-4 p.m. Sunday. Eclectic mix of art from more than 40 local artists. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. 901458-2521. wkno.org MCA Gallery in Playhouse on the Square, 66 S. Cooper: “Côte d’azur, France,” Friday through June 5. Reception 5-6:30 p.m. May 6. Exhibition of work from students and faculty who traveled to France’s Mediterranean coast. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Playhouse on the Square, 66 S. Cooper. mca.edu Memphis College of Art’s Nesin Graduate School, 477 S. Main: “Hueman: MFA Thesis Exhibition,” through May 7 in Hyde Gallery. Reception 6-9 p.m. Friday. A variety of work from nine MFA candidates — from photographic prints and digitally manipulated paintings, to large-scale paintings and hanging installations. Gallery hours: noon-5 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon-7 p.m. Saturday. 901-272-5100. mca.edu St. George’s Episcopal Church (Art Gallery), 2425 S. Germantown Road, Germantown: Wayne and Sherry Carpenter: mixed media artworks, Sunday through May 31. 9:30 a.m.4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sunday. 901-754-7282. stgchurch.org Eclectic Eye, 242 S. Cooper: Melissa Bridgman: “Sea and Stone: ceramics and sketches,” through June 8. 901276-3937. eclectic-eye.com Germantown Performing Arts Center, 1801 Exeter Road, Germantown: Karen Pulfer Focht: “The Time Catcher,” ends Sunday. Photo exhibit and art sale featuring Focht, former award-winning staff photojournalist for The Commercial Appeal. 901-7517500. karenpulferfocht.com
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917), “Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe,” 1885; pastel on paper; Collection of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens.