Picks and Pans Review: Impressionist Masterpieces

updated 01/06/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/06/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by John House

Americans have a long-standing love affair with Impressionist paintings. Even before the turn of the century, U.S. collectors were busily plumping up their holdings with then avantgarde French art. But when the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. opened its doors in 1941, the museum could point to only one 19th-century painting—Advice to a Young Artist, by political cartoonist Honoré Daumier. In recent years the gallery has developed a splendid collection of works by such Impressionists as Degas, Manet, Pissarro and Renoir. As a guide to that section of the museum's holdings, this book is a pleasant primer. The commentaries by House, professor of art history at London's Courtauld Institute, are informal yet instructive. House notes that when Renoir was painting his sparkling city oil, Pont Neuf, Paris, he had stationed himself at an upstairs studio overlooking the scene. To capture the moving pedestrians he would dispatch his brother Edmond downstairs to hold people in brief chats while he rapidly jotted down their shapes on his canvas. House also discusses one of the strongest portraits in the museum's collection, that of Paul Cézanne's father. Criticized for his bold technique, Cézanne once replied, "I paint as I see, as I feel—and I have very strong sensations. I dare, Sir, I dare." The book's introductory essay by William James Williams, a curator at the National Gallery, is informative, though it's also a plodding testimonial for the museum's patrons. (Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, $25)

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