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Ahead of Their Time

Paul Cézanne's “The François Zola Dam. Image courtesy of The Corcoran.

What: “Turner to Cézanne: Masterpieces From the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales.”

Where: Corcoran Gallery of Art.

When: January 30 through April 25.

Backstory: Welsh sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies were reclusive yet renowned British collectors who inherited their wealth from their industrialist grandfather. In the early 20th century, they used that fortune to acquire art—mostly Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works—at a time when modern French art was ignored in Britain. Their collection, which pushed the envelope of modern art, portrays major movements of the period.

They bequeathed their 260-piece collection to the National Museum Wales in hopes that it would be widely shown. Most of the pieces loaned to the Corcoran have never been on view in the United States.

Highlights: The Davies sisters bought what they liked, and their collection is dominated by landscapes and pictures of mothers and children. The 50 pieces on view are organized by artistic movement, beginning with J.M.W. Turner’s popular Romantic landscapes and Camille Corot and Honoré Daumier’s Realist pastoral scenes.

The exhibit then flows into the innovative color and forms of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Symbolism. The Impressionism room features Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s stunning “La Parisienne” as well as works by Edouard Manet and Claude Monet. The Post-Impressionism room includes Paul Cézanne—the sisters collected his works, such as “The François Zola Dam,” at a time when Cézanne was largely ignored—and one of Vincent van Gogh’s last pieces, the fascinating “Rain—Auvers.”

The collection is complemented across the hall by “A Love of Europe: Highlights From the William A. Clark Collection,” an exhibit of 19th-century European art from the Corcoran’s permanent collection. Clark, a self-made businessman and US senator, was collecting at the same time as the Davieses and donated more than 800 works to the museum.

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