New discoveries

By KEN GREENLEAF  |  October 2, 2008

Childe Hassam’s early “A Back Road” has echoes of Barbizon with its little figures and its unusual composition: a road bisects the picture vertically, dividing areas of green grass. “Poppies on the Isles of Shoals,” painted after a stay in France, has a striking palette more characteristic of the Impressionists. The young Boston artist was learning his way and in the process made two dandy paintings that by themselves would be worth a trip to the museum.

It was a popular post-modernist idea that Impressionism has been over-determined, that everything that could be known about it was known, and that its accomplishments were more marketing than fundamental. Nothing, I believe, could be further from the truth. I’ve come to think that this view stems from learning about art from reproductions, which precludes the possibility of a genuine aesthetic experience. Monet and his colleagues were on to something important about the human experience, to something deep about how perception operates. Art is a messy and imperfect process. This show is a valuable opportunity to see directly how that process evolves in history, and how powerful the results can be.

Ken Greenleaf can be reached at ken.greenleaf@gmail.com.

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