by LAURA HAYES
On Sunday evening, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum (MMAM) added works by three French artists to its collection — paintings by Henri Matisse, Édouard Manet, and Jean-Francois Millet.
MMAM founder Bob Kierlin called it the “Scotch tape unveiling” — one of the first clues of the works that would be unveiled that evening. He explained that scotch tape was invented by the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, now known as the 3M Company. “All of our artists’ last names start with ‘M,’” he said.
Founder Mary Burrichter and curator Jon Swanson pulled back the black curtains to reveal Millet’s “Paysan Répandant du Fumier (Peasant Spreading Manure),” Manet’s “La Jetée de Boulogne (The Jetty at Boulogne),” and Matisse’s “Interiéur à Nice, Femme Assise avec un Livre (Interior in Nice, Woman Sitting with a Book).” Burrichter said that MMAM was excited about the “3M unveiling” because each of the paintings related to other works already in the collection.
Swanson said that the new additions tie the museum’s European art collection together. While MMAM already has a work by Matisse, Swanson said that he had been looking to acquire works by Millet and Manet for the past 10 years. “They’re so important in the history of art and the chronology of what became one of the most important 19th century art movement which was Impressionism,” he said.
Art dealer John Driscoll, who works with Burrichter and Kierlin, said that there has to be certain criteria in place when building an art collection — quality, artist’s principal subject, condition of the piece, and purity of work in line with the development of the artist’s ideas. “These are three of the paintings of three of the giants of Western art,” Driscoll said.
“Paysan Répandant du Fumier,” he said, was created at the start of Millet’s career in 1851. “This begins a lineage of work in his life for which he becomes known,” Driscoll said.
The picture features a man standing in the field, shoveling manure. In 1848, there were revolutions across the world where lower- and middle-class people began fighting for their rights. In America, Driscoll said that someone working the land may one day own that land, but in Europe, the peasants would work the fields for their whole lives while the landowner prospered.
Ever since she was a child, Burrichter has been interested in Millet’s work, admiring how the painter portrayed the farmers with dignity and pride. “He was very innovative because at this time most of the other painters painted religious scenes or aristocracy or pretty ladies and dresses. He comes along and he’s painting humble people — regular people,” she explained.
Millet, Driscoll said, was in a constant state of poverty and had a hard time selling his paintings because the Europeans often weren’t as sympathetic to the message as Americans were. “Americans understood this subject matter and they believed in the economy and creation of wealth between work and labor,” Driscoll said.
While Millet painted the everyday person, Burrichter said that Manet was inspired by Berthe Morisot — another French artist whose work is featured at MMAM — to paint everyday scenes outside. “Everyday” for Manet was going outside and watching people enjoy picnics on the seashore while on vacation, Driscoll said. The worst thing, he continued, said about Manet is that he was member of the bourgeoisie.
“Manet is known as the father of Impressionism,” Driscoll said. He explained that his paintings from Boulogne — including MMAM’s “La Jetée de Boulogne” — are often referenced in books on Impressionism. While Manet uses a limited color palette in his works, Driscoll said that he explores each color through its various tones. “It’s a real beginning of the development of how Impressionist like [Claude] Monet and [Alfred] Sisley would paint,” he said.
“La Jetée de Boulogne,” Driscoll said, was one of the important works of art in Manet’s career and has been displayed across the world. When Driscoll began searching for a work by Manet, he said that most of the works were in private collections with plans to be given to a museum. Having almost given up, Driscoll was talking to a colleague in London about his struggles. “He said, ‘Oh I know where there’s one, but you probably won’t want it because it’s not very big and it has water in it,’” Driscoll said. “Here it is.”
The third painting revealed was Matisse’s “Interiéur à Nice, Femme Assise avec un Livre” created in 1919. Driscoll said that the painting was made while Matisse was searching for lighting. Light, he said, is more vibrant and brighter in the Mediterranean.
“This picture along with a few others of its type are iconic and starts something new in the artist’s career,” Driscoll said. Matisse is considered one of the founders of Fauvism, a movement that began in the early 1900s that included artists often straying from a subject’s natural colors.
The paintings are currently on display at MMAM. The museum is open on Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.