A Wealth of Art

Dale [right of center] at the opening of the exhibition Twentieth-Century French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection, November 22, 1952. National Gallery of Art.
Dale [right of center] at the opening of the exhibition Twentieth-Century French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection, November 22, 1952. National Gallery of Art.

What: “From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection,” an exhibit of 19th- and 20th-century American and French art.

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building.

When: January 31, 2010, through July 31, 2011.

Backstory: Chester Dale, a Wall Street businessman, and his wife, Maud, an art historian and painter, were renowned for their art collection—works by masters such as Renoir, Cassatt, Modigliani, Picasso, and Monet. Most pieces were bought in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Chester Dale—a founding benefactor of the National Gallery who also served as its president—gave the gallery more than 300 works that can never be shown anywhere else. Eighty-three of these are presented for the first time since Dale left the collection to the museum on his death in 1965.

Highlights: Other masters in the show include van Gogh, Degas, Rousseau, Dalí, and Diego Rivera. The terrific collection fills seven rooms. Instead of the usual exhibit setup, by artist or year, “From Impressionism to Modernism” is arranged by type. A still life by Matisse hangs next to a still life by Cézanne. The artists looked to one other as they painted, so why not hang them together? Maud Dale collected this way, so it’s how curator Kimberly Jones organized the art.

This approach provides a fresh look at familiar paintings. The exhibition begins with some of the Dales’ most cherished pieces—including Maud’s favorite, Modigliani’s “Chaim Soutine,” and Chester’s favorite, Renoir’s “Girl With a Watering Can.” The show also devotes rooms to landscapes, still lifes, and—a particular favorite for the Dales—portraiture. The next-to-last room has as its centerpiece two massive, memorable canvases facing each other: Picasso’s “Family of Saltimbanques” and Edouard Manet’s “The Old Musician.” In the final room are four portraits, two of Dale and two of Maud, which show how big a role the couple played in the art world.

While you’re there: Inspired by the French impressionism, the museum’s cafe has been renamed Garden Café Français and is featuring a new menu during the exhibit. Chef Michel Richard of Citronelle and Central fame has created a variety of French dishes, from ratatouille to charcuterie and chocolate mousse. Most selections are available on a buffet ($19.75), with a few à la carte choices ($6.50 to $16). For reservations, call 202-712-7454.

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