Sunday, 2 October 2016

Impressionists and Moderns: Masterpieces from the Phillips Collection at CaixaForum, Madrid

One of the joys of wandering round a strange city is that you never know what you might find. On the way to Museo Reina Sofia, walking down the road past the Prado, we stumbled across an odd building with a garden growing on one of the outside walls and saw a large poster highlighting a Degas painting of ballet dancers. It was the Madrid branch of the excellent CaixaForum in an exciting new building which provides the perfect space for exhibitions. The current exhibition was 'Impressionists and Moderns: Masterpieces from the Phillips Collection'.

I've not heard of the Phillips Collection but it's based in Washington, USA, and is an astonishing collection of 'modern' paintings in the European tradition. There were 60 paintings in this exhibition ranging from the neo-classical of Ingres and romanticism of Constable in the early-1800s to abstract paintings from the 1970s. It almost felt like a greatest hits of painters in the last 200 years - you name him and he's there (yes, overwhelmingly male painters other than Berthe Morisot). Delacroix, Degas, Cezanne, Picasso, Braques, Bonnard, Kandinsky and so many more.

One of the early paintings that grabbed my attention was 'The Road to Vetheull' by Monet, a simple but lovely landscape painted in the late afternoon, presumably returning home after a long walk. The colours are marvellous and the shadows tell us the time but where has the artist been and where is he going? What's round the bend in the road? I want to know.  I could almost imagine myself trudging along that road, aiming for the teashop for a cup of tea and cake on my return from a day out exploring the countryside. The sight of the village in the distance shows that I'm almost there. M. Monet knows how to draw you into a painting.

Another painting that made me look again was 'The Riviera' by Pierre Bonnard, another landscape full of colour and shape and motion. Painted from a high vantage point, this painting is full of vegetation and light, bright, sunlit colours and you can imagine the bushes and trees swaying in the breeze. A chateau is central in the middle distance and, perhaps, that's where Bonnard was staying?

Another landscape that pulled me in was 'Courmayear et les Dents des Geants' by Oskar Kokoschka, again full of colour and inviting me to stride around the jagged mountains in the painting. I'm not usually a big fan of landscapes but these paintings were excellent and pulled me in. I've never associated Mr Kokoschka with sunny landscapes before so I've obviously got a lot more to learn.

A final painting I'd single out is Matisse's 'Interior with Egyptian Curtains' from 1948. He's used this kind of composition before, an indoors scene looking out of a window - often of a palm tree - and this has a power to draw the eyes. It's so simple yet so effective. I can almost hear the palm leaves rustling in the breeze outside the window, those simple dashes of green and blue perfectly summing up the swaying palm leaves. How does he do it?

There were, of course, lots of other paintings to mention but I can't do that here - buy the catalogue online if you'd like (CaixaForum had an excellent shop). The Collection really is a 'greatest hits' of the best of 'modern' art and I'll certainly keep my eyes open for any future exhibitions involving the Phillips Collection.

I'm delighted to have discover the CaixaForum, a great space for exhibiting art and a lovely comfortable feeling to the place as well. I loved the lime green toilets on the 6th floor and the garden wall beside the entrance - that's partly what attracted me to the building in the first place, seeing the gardeners tidying up the wall for Autumn.

I plan to visit the CaixaForum in Barcelona in November to see an exhibition from the Thyssen-Bornimesza Collection so it'll be interesting to compare the two spaces. I wonder if it'll have lime green toilets as well?

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