The Snake Charmer, by Jean-Leon Gerome, is displayed in Barbizon Through Impressionism exhibition in Shanghai.
A group of paintings by some of the most respected Impressionist artists has attracted unprecedented crowds to the Shanghai Museum. Zhang Kun joins the visitors for a glimpse of the treasures.
Impressionist masterpieces by Monet and Renoir among other renowned artists has drawn crowds willing to wait for hours in front of the Shanghai Museum for a chance to see the show.
The exhibition, Barbizon Through Impressionism, consists of 73 paintings from the Clark Art Institute from the United States. The show started on Sep 19 and will run till Dec 1. This is the first time the Shanghai Museum has presented an exhibition of Impressionist paintings.
"Many of the artists are very famous, such as landscapes by Monet, portraits by Renoir and ballerinas by Degas, and have attracted more visitors to Shanghai Museum than usual," says Chen Yunke, from the publicity department of the museum.
The opening day of the exhibition coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival. The museum that typically receives up to 6,000 people a day saw 9,000 visitors every day during the vacation.
"People would have to wait at the gate for more than an hour before they could come in, because we have to limit the number of people in the museum," Chen says. Even on work days, people are waiting in lines in front of the museum.
The exhibits belong to the Clark Art Institute, a private establishment by Robert Sterling Clark, and "one of the few institutions in the world with a dual mission as both an art museum and a center for research and higher education in the visual arts", says Michael Conforti, director of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
Sterling Clark (1877-1956) was heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune. He lived in Paris for many years, where together with his wife Francine (1876-1960), he started to collect French paintings from the 19th to early 20th century. Over 40 years, they assembled a great collection of French paintings.
The Clark museum started to build a new venue three years ago, and began an international tour of its collection. More than 20 million people have seen the show since then, says Conforti.
In China, the exhibition's only stop is in Shanghai. "This is an opportunity we have sought for years, to present the largest number of works by great art masters, and display the highest quality Impressionist pieces," says Chen Kelun, deputy director of Shanghai Museum.
Sterling Clark made an expedition to North China from 1908 to 1909. He traveled 3,000 kilometers from Shaanxi province to Gansu province. He financed the expedition himself and recruited the explorer Arthur de Carle Sowerby. Later he and Sowerby published a book about their travels.
"It was purely for scientific studies and Clark didn't take a single antique relic from China," Chen says.
"Instead he provided selfless medical aid along his way whenever there was a need in villagers."
While the Clark collection of French paintings are shown on the second floor, the Shanghai Museum has put up a documents show in a separate hall on its fourth floor, presenting historical images from the Clark expedition in China.
Clark and his wife collected art for their own private enjoyment, says curator of the exhibition from the Clark Institute, Richard Brettell. The 73 paintings on tour are carefully selected from about 500, mostly masterpieces after 1850.
"It was a great period of change," he says about the time of the creation. "Artists took their canvas to the countryside and painted directly from nature … It was the birth of modern art."
One of the most unusual paintings is a realistic painting by Jean-Leon Gerome, The Snake Charmer, which depicts a naked boy performing in front of audiences with a giant snake curling around him.
It is so vivid that the museum exhibited it behind the glass to stop people from touching the canvas, says Brettell the curator. The painting belonged to Clark's parents and Sterling grew up with it in the house. It went missing, until Sterling bought it back in the 1940s.
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IF YOU GO
9 am-5 pm, until Dec 1, Shanghai Museum, 301 Renmin Avenue, Shanghai. 021-6327-3500. Free admission.