Inspiring Impressionism: Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh (4 stars)

Blockbuster festival show focuses on painter that anticipated Impressionist movement

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Charles François Daubigny (1817-1878) Fields in the month of June, 1874

Charles François Daubigny (1817-1878) Fields in the month of June, 1874

Daubigny is not a name that springs readily to mind in connection with Impressionism. Nor with very much else, really. For all that his works hang in top museums, they are easy to overlook: well-executed 19th-century landscapes which, in the light of what came after them, might appear a little dull.

This show, the long-held ambition of Lynne Ambrosini, curator at the Taft Museum in Cincinnati, aims to rehabilitate Daubigny’s reputation, celebrate him as an important influence on the Impressionists, a creative missing link in the development of modern painting. Here, he hangs with Monet and Van Gogh, the threads of that influence made clear in a stunningly attractive exhibition.

It’s not difficult to see the connections: his innovative compositions, his love of painting en plein air, his fascination with the effects of light (in particular, he seems to have loved twilight, challenging himself with darker and darker scenes). He painted from a studio boat - an idea Monet later adopted - and championed the Impressionist cause in the Salon. Van Gogh adored him, and spent the last two months of his life in the town where he had lived, adopting Daubigny’s signature 'double-square' format for some of his last works.

Although this is the first international show ever of his work, it is not a survey show. The chronology zig zags, as, it seems, does Daubigny’s style. In each decade of his working life, he seems to have produced some paintings which were highly detailed and traditional, and others which were remarkably free. However, he probably regarded the most radical of them - such as Moonlight 1875, which sits perfectly next to Monet’s A Seascape, Shipping by Moonlight - as studies, not finished paintings.

Placing him next to Monet and Van Gogh has two effects: it shows how his style anticipated theirs (the last room, which contrasts orchards and poppy fields by all three is truly stunning), but it also shows how Impressionism used what it had learned to spring off into a new palette of sunkissed haziness. This show reminds us how Daubigny enabled what came after, but also how it eclipsed him.

Scottish National Gallery, The Mound, Edinburgh, until Sun 2 Oct.

Inspiring Impressionism: Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh

  • 4 stars

An exhibition looking at the interactions and mutual influences between the works of Daubigny, Monet and Van Gogh.

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