An extraordinary exhibition of more than 70 Impressionist masterpieces has arrived at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Once Upon A Time… Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark has toured Milan, Barcelona, Giverny, London and now, in its only Canadian stop – Montreal. This amazing collection, from the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute of Williamstown, Massachusetts, includes paintings from Bonnard, Corot, Cassatt, Degas, Gauguin, Manet, Millet, Morisot, Pissarro, Sisley, and Toulouse-Lautrec. The exhibit has already drawn more than a million visitors to its international tour, with highlights that include: Monet’s The Cliffs at Etretat, Sisley’s Banks of the Seine at By, and twenty-one paintings by Renoir. Exclusive to the Montreal exhibit is the Degas sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.


Claude Monet, The Cliffs at Étretat, 1885
©The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

To fully enjoy and appreciate great art it helps to know a bit about it. So with that in mind, here are a few key elements of Impressionism.

The French Academy of Fine Arts’ approved style of painting that was so prominent in the era preceding Impressionism used rich, dark colours, theatrical poses, mythical figures centered on the canvas and smooth surfaces that left little or no trace of brushstrokes. In contrast, Impressionism favours brighter colours and thick, rough paint strokes portraying everyday life. Taking a cue from the new advent in photography, impressionists would capture people in mid-task, blur moving figures and place their subjects off center. The new availability of metal paint tubes allowed the impressionist painters to step out of the studio and paint “en plein air”. Moving beyond the conventional, these artists also used a technique called optical colour mixing. Instead of mixing yellow and blue paint to get green, the yellow and blue would be painted next to each other and from a slight distance the eye of the viewer blends them together – a brilliantly modest and intriguing way of using audience participation.


Camille Pissarro, The Louvre from the Pont Neuf, 1902
©The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

For those wishing to explore the fascinating aspects of Impressionism, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will be hosting multiple free lectures and films during the next few months.
According to Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, “If you want to understand modern art, you must learn about Impressionism. It is one of the most popular art movements, but it is also revolutionary and brought onto the table topics like feminism, ecology and the art movement.”

On display until January 20, 2013, don’t miss this unique opportunity to see beautiful works of art and marvel at the bold innovations that the Impressionists brought to the art world.
For information on ticket prices, lectures, films and museum hours visit

*Featured Photo: Edgar Degas, Dancers in the Classroom, c. 1880
© The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

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