Charles H. Davis: Painter of Poetic Moods
View the full article on Charles Harold Davis, written by Tom, that was featured in The Magazine Antiques in November 1995 here.
A Review of “Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape” at the Taft Museum
I recently returned from a visit to the Taft Museum in Cincinnati where I viewed the exhibition Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape and attended a symposium on the exhibition. As a dealer in Daubigny’s works for over forty years, I have eagerly awaited a major retrospective like this to be mounted and Lynn Ambrosini, to her great credit, has worked tirelessly for over fourteen years to bring this about, assembling some of the artist’s finest work from American and European collections. Originally planned to be solely a Daubigny retrospective, the exhibition was expanded to show Daubigny’s influence on Monet and Van Gogh, in part to accommodate a venue which includes the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and also to make the exhibition more appealing to a public unfamiliar with Daubigny and attracted to Impressionism and Van Gogh.
While the selection of works and their installation is outstanding, I have some problems with the catalogue, chiefly due to the presentation of Daubigny merely as a forerunner and an influence on the young Impressionist painters who followed him. When presenting a major painter who is relatively unknown to the contemporary public, there is usually only one chance in a generation to define his contribution and Daubigny was much more than is represented in the printed catalogue. Aside from his influence on such painters as Monet, Pissarro and Van Gogh, Daubigny influenced a host of landscape painters who had nothing to do with Impressionism, but were influential painters in their own right working in other styles. To name just a few, Whistler’s late seascapes, Jules Breton’s harvest scenes, the whole of The Hague School, particularly Weissenbruch and through him early Mondrian, and the work of George Inness and the Tonalist landscape painters working in both Europe and America. The stylistic traits of these artists and of others who flourished around them can’t be understood without reference to Daubigny, yet these influences were not mentioned in the catalogue, even though some of his greatest works borrowed from the collection of the Hague School painter Heindrick Mesdag epitomized these prescient qualities. Indeed, the chapter subtitled “the best pictures never sell,” which discussed how Daubigny’s more commercially pleasing works were in high demand, never defined what the artist regarded as his “best works,” even as many hung on the walls of the exhibition.
I came of age in a critical climate in which Hilton Kramer, among others, regarded art history as a linear progression in which one dominant style led to the next, pushing aside all subsidiary movements and consigning them to the ashcan of history. I am therefore sensitive to such inferences implicit in this representation of Daubigny’s accomplishment purely through his contribution to Impressionism.
Having said this, I urge everybody to see this exhibition as it is truly revelatory and will open the eyes of anyone not familiar with Daubigny to his greatness.
For more information on the exhibition, I encourage you to visit their website.