Inspiring Impressionism | Daubigny | Monet | Van Gogh
25th June − 2nd October 2016
Scottish National Gallery | £11 (£9)
It is not often you discover an artist that you had never heard of, but is actually really really good.
Yesterday I had planned to listen to Darran Anderson discuss High Rise (by JG Ballard) at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Unfortunately when I checked Twitter he was stuck at Charles De Gaulle airport and was going to miss his sold out event. I was already taking a half day off work, so I found myself with a morning to fill in Edinburgh. I swung by the Royal Scottish Academy (the big neoclassical art gallery on the Mound that is nearest to Princes Street). There was an exhibition on Daubigny and the Impressionists, so I went to see that.
Like most people I am familiar with the Impressionists, and have various books of their works. Although the paintings reproduce well, and the movement was an overdue shot in the arm for moribund landscape painting, seeing the paintings in person is often an underwhelming experience. The works can come across as flat and decorative. Daubigny I had never heard of, and I presumed it was an opportunity to hang some familiar impressionist paintings from local galleries along with some musty predecessor
As it turned out Daubigny was an absolute revelation. He is one of those rare artists where is it hard to consistently identify the works as all being by the same artist. He had a sense of humour, sketching his life in a boat that he used as a floating studio, he could do the detailed landscapes in dark tones that are familiar in countless galleries, but also blast out painted sketches that captured some momentary light effect with the setting sun or suchlike. He loved to experiment with paint, getting effects that are quite remarkable.
He was capable of capturing the light, detail and mood of a scene. Often I would slip off my glasses and the blurred image before me could pass for the reality of a day in France long ago, but there still before me. To my taste generally his works showed the weaknesses of the neighbouring impressionist works, though there were a few where it seemed that Daubigny had raised their game too.
With Daubigny the reproductions do not do him justice, there is no substitute for the real things, a highly recommended exhibition, offering an opportunity to see the range and power of a major artist and the influence he had on art history.
I do rather wonder whether it was Daubigny who was the model for the painter Elstir in Proust, although Wikipedia suggest Monet as the model.