The new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, featuring works by many of the world’s premier impressionists, is impressive to the max.
On loan from the prestigious Los Angeles County Museum of Art, True Nature: Rodin and the Age of Impressionism opens Saturday. It includes famous sculptures by the revolutionary naturalist August Rodin (1840-1917), along with canvases from some of the French master’s most iconic contemporaries, including Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas and Pierre Auguste-Renior.
During a Friday morning preview for media, Senior Curator of Collections and Exhibitions Stanton Thomas couldn’t help but smile. “We have a great track record of doing major, innovative projects,” Thomas said. “But this one’s particularly splashy because it includes almost 40 works by Rodin, and then another 15 major Impressionist paintings.”
They’re all together for very good reasons. “Rodin was very close friends with Monet, although they didn’t always get along,” Thomas explained. “He was friends with Renoir; they sometimes worked together. He knew Cezanne. He knew Pissaro.
“The exhibit really gives you a much fuller picture of his life, and why this was considered so revolutionary. How Rodin was really part of this milieu that was really challenging what art was, the way art was made, and the way art was made at that time.”
Many of Rodin’s cast bronze sculpture are life-sized or larger; the exhibition rooms in the museum’s Hazel Hough Wing were arranged, by Thomas and his team, to give them the breathing room they deserve.
“What a phenomenal team,” reflected Anne-Marie Russell, who’s been the MFA’s interim executive director since September. “They worked so hard. I think they put together the most gorgeous exhibition you could out of those objects. Every single placement was so well thought out – the eyes, the sightlines, the pointing, the gesturing, they activate the space in such an exciting way.”
Although it was originally scheduled for a 2020 stay at the museum, True Nature was delayed, first by the arrival of Covid, then by scheduling conflicts (these are, to be sure, in-demand works, and they’re wanted by art museums the world over).
True Nature is the first major MFA show to open under Russell’s watch.
She’s moved her home to St. Pete from Sarasota, where she worked before being tapped for the interim gig, although she still travels south on the weekends.
Still, Russell enthused, her new adopted city has left her all but breathless.
“This museum is so woven into the fabric of this community,” she said. “The love and support for this institution in this community is really overwhelming and beautiful. And I feel so honored to be part of it.”
Per capita, she added, “St. Pete’s museum game cannot be beat. It’s incredible. To me, the strongest asset is all the museums together. In the aggregate, it says so much about this community that it sustains so many museums in such a concentrated area.
“And each of those institutions contributes something specific in their way.”
True Nature: Rodin and the Age of Impressionism opens Saturday and will be on view through March 26.