Town and Country: From Degas to Picasso Through February 20; daily, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; $15-$17. Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, 702-693-7871.
The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art’s newest exhibition, Town and Country: From Degas to Picasso, is worth a visit for two reasons. First, some of the works, like André Derain’s small canvas, “Landscape in Southern France” (circa 1907-27)—with its sexy, Cezanne-inspired picture plane—are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Second, little-known pieces, like Vincent Van Gogh’s somber oil painting “Weaver” (1884), shed light on the artists’ better-known works. A study of a woman dwarfed by an overwhelming loom, “Weaver” wouldn’t likely be hanging on the Bellagio wall if Van Gogh hadn’t gone on to produce the bright, energetic Expressionist paintings for which he is universally recognized.
Curated by Claire Whitner of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, and organized by BGFA Executive Director Tarissa Tiberti, Town and Country was culled from a traveling exhibit almost twice its size. Drawn from holdings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the 47 paintings, prints, drawings and photographs in the Bellagio curation link the country/town theme to a host of related binaries: urban/rural, wealthy/poor, debauched/pure, work/leisure and on and on. Just about any piece of art with a tree or architecture, peasant or person-of-means, produced between 1850 and 1930 might have been included. The pliable theme lends itself to an extensive range of name-brand artists—mostly French, but also American, Spanish and German—and styles, from Realism to Impressionism to Post-Impressionism to Expression and beyond. Portraits, landscapes, abstractions: Clearly there’s a lot happening in the cozy exhibition space at the Bellagio.
One of the standout works is Edgar Degas’ “Visit to a Museum” (circa 1879-90), a painting depicting two women—possibly the artist Mary Cassatt and her sister—themselves looking, like the viewer, at paintings. The women are serious and absorbed, one of them portraying an almost irreverent confidence, chin lifted, nose in the air. The trademark contour lines Degas deploys in his nudes convincingly render the women’s clothed bodies, including the suggestion of the cleft between a pair of buttocks. More mischievous, perhaps, is the captivating gap between the women, forming a keyhole shape of negative space in the center of the painting.
Other highlights include Toulouse-Lautrec’s jaunty lithograph, “Partie de la Campagne” (1897), André Kertész’ mesmerizing photograph, “Paris, Rue Vavin” (1925); and Robert Earle Henri’s intriguing small-format Impressionist paintings, “Café Bleu, St. Cloud” and “Café by Night with Japanese Lanterns” (circa 1895-99), with their now-you-see-them, now-you-don’t blobs.
Town and Country isn’t short on interesting works. Yet, overall the exhibition has a lingering, catch-all quality due to its elastic art-during-the-industrial-revolution theme. A tighter curatorial focus geared to a small exhibition space would have made a strong show even stronger.