Wasn't it nice of Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morosov to buy so many of the works of the French Impressionists? If they hadn't, you and I wouldn't be able to go to the County Museum of Art from now until Aug. 12 and see more than 40 pictures by Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Cezanne.
These two Soviet art lovers bought the works of the French artists just as they were becoming recognized and opened their collections to the public. Ivan had more than 140 canvases. In 1919, when the Russian Revolution did away with the class of Shchukin and Morosov, the canvases were stored somewhere out of sight when they were nationalized--which means put in a basement or someplace where they wouldn't taint the purity of the revolutionary mind.
Finally, they were hauled out, dusted off and hung in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. And now they are on loan to us.
It's almost as much fun to see the museumgoers as it is the pictures. Somehow, I always think that gallerygoers have a look, an imprimatur that says, "This is a person who appreciates beauty and is willing to stand in line to see it for only a few moments."
Actually, most of us look like the check-out line in a supermarket. There were old, young, middle-aged, students, girls in baggy shirts and chains around their necks and nice ladies who looked as if they might have gathered to exchange tuna casserole recipes.
I wonder what they said about me? Probably, "What in the world is she doing here? Her outer limit must be Norman Rockwell."
Actually, I like dear Norman very much and love the toasty, warm feeling his paintings give me. But I also love the Matisse goldfish. That's the picture in which he painted a glass cylinder of bright-orange fish, sitting on a lavender-topped table. The edge of a blue rattan chair holds up one side of the picture.
Monet remains my favorite. Without doubt, because I am a red-barn-blue-sky-white-cow fancier and Monet is the most representational. Someday, I plan to go to Giverny and see that bridge, that pond and the garden at Montgeron. You can smell the blossoms on the trees, hear the soft summer breeze feathering the leafy branches, hear the hum of water insects.
At the risk of offending a good many people, Paul Gauguin is not for me. I feel so sorry that he never saw a lady with long, lithe legs. All of his people look as if they had been carved from an oaken trunk, with legs and arms like great stumps. Of course he had some redeeming qualities. He uses dogs and cats so much and he doesn't make them stumpy. Just the people.
There is a portrait of actress Jeanne Samary by Jean Renoir. It is a full length and the lady is dressed in a soft-pink dress with horizontal tucks. She looks like a strawberry sundae seen through a mist of whipped cream. Renoir's skin tones are so soft you can feel the warmth.
I finished the trip with the memorable fillip. I locked the keys in the car.
By the time the man arrived and extracted the keys, my legs felt like Gauguin's ladies, driven into the parking lot like pier pilings.
My thanks to Sergei and Ivan for seeing the beauty in the paintings before anyone else and taking them home to fill their walls with such wonder.