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Toulose-Letrec ‘steals’ Bay Area exhibition
by Jake Highton
Dec 06, 2012 | 2400 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SAN FRANCISCO —Exhibits of French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists often reveal works I have never seen or “noticed” before despite decades of going to art exhibitions in America and Europe.

So it is with the William Paley collection of 60 paintings showing through Dec. 30 at the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park here. The exhibit contains several gems. The best is Mme. Lili Grenier, an oil portrait by Toulouse-Lautrec painted in 1888.

Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle art critic, says the portrait has “astounding descriptive flair.”

Indeed it does. Mme. Grenier is imperious, self-satisfied. Her lower lip is curled downward, barely concealing contempt. Her hair is red. Lautrec adored redheads.

She is slouched in a chair. Colorful brush strokes dot her kimono. She’s knitting, reminding you of the Dickens character, Madame Defarge, in “A Tale of Two Cities.”

The Lautrec portrait, just 18” by 21 ¾,” is magnificent.

Mme. Grenier, a Belle Époque beauty, modeled for Lautrec. According to Lautrec biographer Gilles Néret, she was “his best and most perceptive woman friend. “ Lautrec admired her great warmth that went along with her attractiveness.

Paley, co-founder of CBS, bequeathed his collection to the New York Museum of Modern Art where the portrait usually resides. Paley’s treasure includes a who’s who of Impression and Post-Impressionist painters like Francis Bacon, Bonnard, Cezanne, Degas, Derain, Gauguin, Lautrec, Matisse, Picasso, Renoir and Vuillard.

As with so many works of art and literature, individual taste is everything. I detest the facial distortions of Bacon but many viewers find them excellent. I think Gauguin, admired by many art lovers, is vastly overrated. Cezanne is a great artist but his still lifes have no appeal for me.

I dislike Picasso’s cubism but his 1906 painting at the de Young, “Nude With Joined Hands,” from the rose period, is winning.

Also winning is Picasso’s “Boy Leading a Horse” (1905-1906). The boy is nude, his right fist clenched. No reins are visible but the viewer easily “sees” him leading the horse. The canvas is a gray, pale blue.

Matisse I find uneven. But I like his “The Musketeer” in the Paley collection. The oil, painted in 1903, shows the gallant swashbuckler leaning on a sword and wearing knee-high boots.

Here’s a game for you: when next you visit an art exhibition ask yourself which one picture would you take home if it were given to you. At some art exhibits I find none. The Paley show has one: Mme. Grenier.

Poor Richard

“Richard III” is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, ranking close behind “Hamlet,” “King Lear,” “Macbeth” and “Henry IV, part one” (Falstaff).

But the “Richard III” recently presented here in the Live Oak Theater in Berkeley was so bad I walked out at the intermission. Amateurish and boring. Women shrieked instead of acted.

The play was set in the 1920s. In some productions modern dress works if the adaptation is true to the words of Shakespeare.

But this production was terribly anachronistic. A Victrola played in several scenes. Richard’s henchmen, appearing twice in the background wearing military uniforms, shot and killed royal successors to the throne.

Alas, this was not the “Richard III” I love. The deformed Richard, since he cannot “prove a lover,” is determined “to prove a villain.”

When you have seen the best on stage, in movies, on CDs and videos you should never go to third-rate productions.

Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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