What makes a museum different from any other? Is it the collection, the people, the building? Or is it the atmosphere, the way that it brings people together to enjoy the pieces it displays?
I don’t know the answer; the only thing I know is that the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is the driving force of community programs for the area, and above all else, an interesting place where studio art, decorative art, sculpture, gardens and fine arts come together in the 300,000 square foot space.
This museum, which is the largest art museum in the country south of Chicago, west of Washington D.C., and east of Los Angeles, is also home to one of the largest art libraries in the Southwest and to permanent collections that include nearly 63,000 works of art from all time periods and major civilizations. However, it is the more than thirty changing exhibitions a year and the community programs that run alongside them that are the real draw to this special place.
Take, for instance, the current exhibit on German impressionism, a milieu that in and of itself seems like an oxymoron: impressionism is generally considered to be a French movement, evoking names like Monet, Renoir and Morisot, not Liebermann, Corinth and Slevogt. But what most fail to notice, the Museum of Fine Arts brings into the limelight, offering the works of the German artists who took interest in this 19th century development in the world of French art.
This exhibit is one of the first of its kind in the United States and features more than 90 works, including paintings by Max Leibermann, sometimes called “the German Manet.” Liebermann is widely appreciated as the leader of this generation of German painters, and along with Lovis Corinth and Max Slevogt made up the “triumvirate of German Impressionism.” These painters were often snubbed by their French counterparts, but the short-lived German movement produced important works of art that reflect the politics of the time: with the outbreak of World War I in Germany, the painters’ choices of landscapes are very telling with regards to the political climate. Liebermann, for example, produced hundreds of paintings of his garden in Wannsee when the Occupation rendered him unable to visit Holland, a country that had often inspired him. The result of these political boundaries invites comparison to Monet’s work in his own garden in France; the later works of both of these painters move further and further into the ideals of impressionism—especially the fleeting capture of reality—something that is especially apparent with the German painter’s work, as he was less devoted to the movement at the beginning of his career. His paintings from the 1910s predate expressionism, and yet the wild brushstrokes that merely suggest an image, offering it to the viewer’s imagination instead of spilling it all out at once onto canvas, foreshadow the artistic movement that would arrive in the next few years.
Along with this unique exhibit, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston offers the even more unique opportunity to hear even more about the movement: gallery talks take place every Thursday and Sunday (except for Thanksgiving) throughout the month of November, though the exhibition itself will stay opened through December 5th.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 1001 Bissonnet at Main Houston, Texas 77005