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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday in the Park with Pierre-Auguste

(5 points to anyone who gets the super-nerdy title reference)

There's nothing quite as relaxing as a quiet day at a museum. Stroll through the galleries, pause in front of whatever strikes your fancy, and ultimately end with a latte and chocolate cake at the museum café. Ah, paradise.

Renoir is one of my favorite painters -- I could stare at "Luncheon of the Boating Party" for hours, no matter how cliché it is, and find something new every time -- so when I heard about the Seoul Museum of Art's "Promise of Happiness" retrospective, my to-do list had another item.

The exhibition is the largest solo display "in terms of work quality and quantity" since a 1985 Renoir retrospective in Paris, according to a brochure. It's also the first Renoir exhibition in Korea. (And left me wanting to head back to Paris ASAP.)

This goes a long way toward explaining the hordes of people queuing at the museum when it opened at 10 a.m. Here I was, thinking early Sunday morning would be the perfect time to enjoy the galleries for a couple of hours before swarms of people arrived but no, apparently every third family in Seoul had the same idea.

It was frustrating at first. People were talking loudly and pushing their way to the best possible viewpoint of each work. If it had been a free museum, I would have left and come back another day but since it was a paying exhibition and my free days are quickly running out, leaving wasn't an option.

I've never seen people do this before but it was almost mechanical: take a picture of the poster, flip, take a picture...

That's when I had the idea to a) put on my iPod for some French music and b) tour the exhibition end-to-beginning. Bingo.

"Pursuit of Happiness" is divided into 8 themed sections, such as "Happiness of Daily Life," "Bathers and Nudes" and "Works on Paper." Works have been collected from around the world from places like Museé d'Orsay (favorite museum ever) and the National Gallery of Art.

The exhibition features many of Renoir's best-known paintings including

La danse à la campagne (Dance in the country)

La Balançoire (The Swing)

Jeune filles au piano (Young girls at the piano)

Renoir once said, "La douler passe, la beauté reste." Spending a few hours with most Impressionist paintings, particularly his, it's easy to see what he meant. (There are also a lot of sketches and photographs, which were equally compelling.)

The sheer awesomeness of the paintings melted away the crowds and noise. Impressionism is such a vibrant art movement that invites you to look examine each brushstroke while still appreciating the whole painting. Renoir does this adeptly with a wide range of colors and small details to give a painting extra life.

Having paintings from around the world brought together gave the opportunity to see similar paintings side-by-side and compare them. Among the bathers and nudes, many of the poses and settings were virtually identical with only the model having changed. It was interesting to see this contrast.

It many not have been the "perfect" museum outing (I even skipped the latte and cake -- mon Dieu!) but when you have such incredible art to admire, who needs anything more?


  1. Sunday in the Park with George. Please, as if you didn't think I would catch the reference to a Sondheim musical.

    What are these points for? Can they be exchanged for something of value?

  2. I <3 Renoir and the Orsey tooooo!