From 15 January to 5 April 2015 (extended until 3 May 2015) the National Gallery of Slovenia hosts the Painting in Normandy: At the dawn of Impressionism. The display showcases 72 works of art by French painters, who created them between 1850 and 1920. Among the paintings are works by Gustav Coubert, Pierre Bonnard, J.-B. Camille Corot, Claude Monet and others. With the exhibition the Gallery continues the presentation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries art.
In 1992, the Regional Council of Lower Normandy (Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie) put together a collection of around a hundred and twenty paintings dating from 1750 to 1950. This was given the title Painting in Normandy (Peindre en Normandie), since each painting is linked in one way or another to this region. The link exists either as a chapter in the life of a certain painter or as a place at which the work was painted, and the like. The exhibition is divided into five themes:
The farm at Saint-Siméon
In the 19th century, La Ferme Saint-Siméon was a meeting place for men of letters, musicians and painters, such as Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Constant Troyon and those whose art owes everything to Normandy, e.g. Eugène Boudin. Most often they would gather in the inn of the same name. At the end of his life, remembering those halcyon days, Boudin wrote to a friend: "Oh! Saint-Siméon! That hostelry would have many tales to tell." Saint-Siméon was a farm on the Côte de Grâce, set on a slope and surrounded by apple trees, from where a panoramic view of the Seine estuary was afforded. La Ferme Saint-Siméon played a major role because it brought its permanent or temporary inhabitants together with its sublime natural environment, which could often be rough, sad and violent, as the backdrop for their hard work or idleness.
Working life and seaside holiday
On the one hand, there are the fishermen, local, hard-working people, still caught up in their rhythms and customs. In their ruggedness, they are as one with the boats, the seaweed washed up on the shore and the rocks, and take part in the tranquil tragedy of the tides. On the other hand, there are the tourists, who come and break the silence. They appear in their finery, posing, chatting with each other, doing things they would never do in their own town, and form groups to indulge the passion which disgusts the people of the sea – bathing. They come in couples, in families. There are always several women on the beach, accompanied by their children. They are joined at the weekend by their husbands. Regattas can be seen on the horizon in the paintings, and horse racing scenes replace the arrival of stagecoaches and work in the fields. Many places on the Normandy coast, from Honfleur to Langrune, shaped this school of painters, represented by Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Johan Barthold Jongkind and Claude Monet, artists who mostly came to epitomise Impressionism.
The Normandy countryside
The Normandy region has had a conspicuous role in the rich literary tradition since the 18th century, e.g. in the works by Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, and in numerous travel books. Descriptions of the region became ever more comprehensive and, with them, the stereotypes of the orchard and the apple tree developed. Normandy was the preferred destination of the first tourists, primarily the English, who came over after the Treaty of Amiens in 1802 and travelled throughout Normandy on their way to Paris. In their solitary, contemplative work, the painters Eugène Isabey, Paul Huet, Karl Daubigny and Camille Corot knew how to capture the poetry of the region’s natural environment.
Along the river Seine
The image of the river Seine changes a great deal along its flow through Normandy: from being trapped peacefully between the banks in inland areas to the untameable force near the sea. The diversity of the landscape along its banks afforded numerous motifs to painters: unspoiled, wild nature, ruins and monuments, old abbeys, bridges, ports. Karl Daubigny seems to have been the first to be attracted by the picturesque character of the area and studied it from his studio boat Le Bottin. From 1865 onwards, painters studied light reflections on the surface of water, which is first evident in the works by Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille, and Claude Monet.
Normandy in the collection of the National Gallery of Slovenia
During the ten years of his stay in Paris, Jurij Šubic spent five weeks of the 1882 autumn in Normandy, on the invitation of his fellow painter Gabriel Desrivièrs and with the intention to produce a painting for the annual exhibition in the Salon. In addition to the painting Before the Hunt I – which was indeed approved by the Salon commission for the exhibition next year, and now belongs to the National Gallery of Slovenia's painting collection – he painted an almost identical, although reversed, version of the motif for a private client; this oil is now kept in Niort, France. Šubic made several other oil sketches in Normandy featuring different motifs, from interior scenes to landscapes among which also views of the typical orchards can be found. No other landscapes are known in Šubic's later output. The painter planned another stay in Normandy for the year 1884, but he dropped the idea because he received the commission for the ceiling decoration of the restaurant Café du Tambourin at the Boulevard de Clichy in Paris.