Re­turn to its roots

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - ARTS - By Fredric Koep­pel Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

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

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. 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. 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. 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. Eclec­tic Eye, 242 S. Cooper: Melissa Bridg­man: “Sea and Stone: ce­ram­ics and sketches,” through June 8. 901276-3937. eclec­ 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. karen­pulfer­

Edgar De­gas (French, 1834-1917), “Dancer Ad­just­ing Her Shoe,” 1885; pas­tel on pa­per; Col­lec­tion of the Dixon Gallery and Gar­dens.

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