Chivalry is not dead yet. It is very much alive, and Richmond has its own chevalier or knight, Alex Nyerges. He’s Director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and in November, he was named by the French government as a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (A Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters).
The honor is the arts equivalent of France’s hallowed Légion d’Honneur. Nyerges was named a Chevalier in recognition of his efforts to promote partnerships on many levels between French and North American museums. He is a pro in the museum field and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in museum studies at George Washington University.
About 20 years ago, Elizabeth Rohatyn, wife of the United States Ambassador to France, took stock of the untapped resources in regional French museums and decided to do something about it. She then founded FRAME (French & American Museum Exhibitions) which facilitates exchanges of paintings, exhibitions, educational programs and curatorial activities between French and North American museums.
Nyerges explained, “FRAME came into being when a need was recognized for collaboration and partnerships. French museums have been a hidden resource. FRAME has turned out to foster great human and diplomatic relations between countries.”
An outstanding example of a major FRAME project is right here in Richmond, “Van Gogh, Manet & Matisse: The Art of the Flower, a gorgeous exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts of 65 floral still lifes created in the early 18th century through the early 20th century reveals how a traditional genre dating back to the seventeenth century was reinvented by 19th century painters. The exhibit shows how a traditional genre dating back to the 17th century was reinvented by 19th century painters. VMFA Paul Mellon Curator Mitchell Merling and Dallas Museum of Art Associate Curator Heather McDonald collaborated to create and the companion catalogue which accompanies the show.
The Impressionists were all about experimentation, especially with the use of color and perspective; the floral still life provided a new artistic dialogue, opening up new formal possibilities. For example, Pierre-Auguste Renoir had great interest in exploring the formal possibilities of the floral still life.The red seat in a public theater became a backdrop for Bouquet in a Loge, a bunch of flowers for the star of the show after the performance.
Edouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, Camille Pissarro, Gustave Caillebotte and Vincent Van Gogh were all exploring and experimenting with the floral still life during the 1880s. Manet was in poor health, failing rapidly. He painted flower still lifes from his bed, then gave them away to the friends who had brought the blooms to him. Vincent van Gogh knew that he was not considered by his peers to be an Impressionist. He tried painting with a thick impasto, pairing oppositions together such as blue with orange and red with green. He called these his enhanced “color studies series,” as seen in “Vase With Carnations”, painted in 1887.
As the 19th century waned, Odilon Redon occasionally came upon the French avant-garde, but worked alone for 30 years on his noirs, monochrome charcoal drawings and lithographs. He then gradually turned to the use of color. Pierre Bonnard was part of the turn of the century Nabi group of painters. Like Gauguin, he worked from memory rather than from direct observation. Well into the 20th century Henri Matisse used a patterned backdrop in Still Life: Bouquet and Compotier. Was this busy background put in to confuse the viewer?
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Van Gogh, Manet & Matisse: The Art of the Flower
WHEN: Through June 21
WHERE: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
LEARN MORE: See www.vmfa.museum