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11 New Impressionist Works At Art Museum

January 21, 1987|WILLIAM WILSON | Times Art Critic

A multimillion-dollar group of heart-melting French Impressionist paintings goes on public view today at the County Museum of Art.

The trove of 11 works represents a "permanent loan" and one outright bequest to the museum from the late film producer and museum patron Hal B. Wallis.

The gift, Paul Gauguin's 1886 "The Field of Derout-Lollichon," was painted in Pont-Aven when the artist was still under the influence of Cezanne and Pissarro. The museum terms it a "perfect complement" to the artist's later "Red Cow," already in the collection. The permanent loan from the Wallis Foundation includes vintage Impressionist works by Monet, Degas, Fantin-Latour, Pissarro and Cassatt as well as later works by "Nabis" artists Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard plus more modern works by Henry Martin, Andre Derain and three landscapes by American Andrew Wyeth.

Museum director Earl (Rusty) Powell III expressed delight at the addition to the collection and explained the somewhat contradictory term permanent loan.

"It is the next thing to an outright gift. It means there is no time limit on the loan." Powell acknowledged the museum's weakness in classic French Impressionist-era holdings and attributed it to a combination of the rarity of the material on the art market and the staggering prices currently being paid for items that do appear--it's not uncommon for works equaling the quality of the best of these pictures to fetch several million dollars at current auction. Powell mused that when an anticipated gift from Armand Hammer joins current holdings, the museum's Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections will solidify.

Viewed in the conservation lab, the Wallis paintings looked exceptionally fresh. They are in unusually fine condition, newly cleaned and relatively unfamiliar.

"I can only remember one or two instances when Wallis loaned any of these for public exhibition," Powell said.

The Gauguin was in the museum's 1984 "A Day in the Country," but after cleaning, the quiet landscape reveals a harmony of vivid pastels anticipating the later South Seas paintings for which the artist is best known.

Claude Monet is represented by a sparkling, undated still life of a vase of asters and by a classic 1904 image of England's "Houses of Parliament" that is so romantic it seems the Frenchman was thinking of the British master J. M .W. Turner.

A pearlescent calm envelopes Camille Pissarro's panoramic "Quai Saint-Sever a Rouen," but the real crowd-pleasers of the group are likely to be pastels by Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas. He is represented by a trademark ballet scene where reflected stage lights play delicately on the face of the principal figure. Cassatt's "Mother and Two Children" is as tightly composed as a trim sailboat and as endearingly robust as healthy baby's skin.

Other works are more subtly nuanced. Henri Fantin-Latour's 1894 "Roses" employs his tightly focused realism to wistfully capture the flowers' first fading. Pierre Bonnard's "Nue, Jambe Levee" belongs to his endless delighted rumination on the gentle light playing about his wife at her toilette. Vuillard's "Card Players" silhouettes figures against hanging lamps in a sophisticated composition that suggests a scene from Marcel Proust.

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