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Little bit of Paris in Philly: Art exhibit makes a great Impression

By Jane Stevenson, Postmedia Network

Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Courtesy M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia)

Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Courtesy M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia)

PHILADELPHIA — There’s more than just a little bit of Paris waiting for tourists in the City of Brotherly Love this summer and fall.

Not only was the famed Benjamin Franklin Parkway modelled after the Champs-Elysees, the scenic roadway that begins at Philly’s city hall ends at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — remember those famous steps that Sylvester Stallone climbed in Rocky? — which just unveiled a new exhibit, Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and The New Painting, running until Sept. 14.

It’s the first exhibit to feature the story of a dealer, in this case the visionary Parisian-based Durand-Ruel, prominently along with the works of his Impressionist painter-clients like Monet, Renoir and Degas, spanning the period 1865 until 1905.

So as you enter the exhibition on its only U.S. stop, you are greeted by both Renoir’s The Dancer and a portrait of Durand-Ruel, who fled Paris in 1870 to avoid the Franco-Prussian War and opened a gallery in London, where he was first introduced to Monet.

From there, his interest in the Impressionist style exploded and he returned to Paris in 1871, eventually holding two major Impressionist group exhibits in 1874 and 1876 that were not well-received.

In 1886, Durand-Ruel launched an Impressionist exhibition in New York and the open-minded Americans were more receptive.

Thus, he opened a New York gallery and soon collectors from Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston gave him and the artists some security at last.

In addition to the Impressionist exhibit, which ends with a recreation of Durand-Ruel’s Paris salon, two other interesting art side trips can be found at both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and The Barnes Foundation, the latter also located in the Museum District on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

PAFA, established in 1805, is the first and oldest art museum and school in the U.S., and is known for 19th- and 20th-century American paintings, but its exterior is almost as interesting as the art itself.

The walls range from rust to pale blue colours while industrial design is a major influence throughout.

The Barnes, founded in 1922 by chemist Albert Barnes, was originally housed in Marion, Penn., but its 2,500 objects — with a large emphasis on Impressionist and Modernist paintings by Renoir and Cezanne, and Matisse and Picasso, respectively — were controversially moved into a sleek and minimalist new building with reflecting ponds and trees in 2012, with everything laid out according to just how it was inside the original building.

At the Barnes, you’re as likely to see a masterpiece as you are some farm equipment with ironworks as the founder wanted to use them as a tool to teach the layperson about art.

There are also many rules about how close you can stand to each painting, so observe the boundary line on the floors or risk a talking to at your peril.

When you’re done taking in the art for the day, there are many options for eating, with the Philadelphia Museum of Art housing the pretty, French-inspired Granite Hill and the Barnes Foundation’s Garden Restaurant, which includes outdoor seating — a major bonus for late summer-early fall travellers.

Further afield there is La Peg, a French-inspired brasserie housed inside a high-ceilinged industrial space (a former pumping station) on the waterfront and in the shadows of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

Next door in the same space — separated by a giant, sliding, soundproofed wall — is a theatre that is used for everything from plays during the Fringe Festival to weddings, and outdoors is a beer garden with a tiny silver 1962 Nomad trailer, measuring 10 feet by six feet, that serves as the theatre’s box office.

C’est bon!

 

NEED TO KNOW

STAY: At the French-owned Sofitel Philadelphia, very centrally located near Rittenhouse Square for good walking, shopping, eating, coffee drinking and people watching.

EAT: La Peg, 140 N. Columbus Blvd., where you can stare at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge under which this high-ceilinged restaurant-theatre space sits.

ART LOVERS MUST-SEES: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and The Barnes Foundation.

WEBSITE: Visitphilly.com.


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