PORTLAND, MAINE — Modern art makes a splash in Portland this summer with the special exhibition “The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism,” on view through September 8 at the Portland Museum of Art. Featuring 62 treasures from the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) William S. Paley collection, this exhibition offers a master class in the key movements and figures that revolutionized art and culture of the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.
Some of the most important artists of the period, including Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon, are among the 24 artists whose paintings, sculpture and works on paper grace this exhibition. The Portland Museum of Art is the only New England venue for this exhibition.
Paley (1901–1990), the media titan who built the CBS broadcasting empire, was also a passionate collector and a committed philanthropist. His embrace of new technologies in the communications industry paralleled his passion for vanguard art. He began collecting European art in the 1930s and, with the determination of a hunter and a keen eye for quality, amassed an extraordinary collection of Modern art. At the same time, Paley became a catalytic force at MoMA, which was founded in 1929, serving variously as a patron, trustee, president and board chairman from 1937 until his death. His leadership helped to forge the institution into one of the world’s premier museums for the display and interpretation of Modern art.
In one of his final and greatest acts of philanthropy, Paley donated his personal collection to MoMA. As a fitting tribute to Paley’s legacy as a collector and patron of modern art, MoMA organized this exhibition to share with audiences throughout North America.
The exhibition reflects Paley’s particular interest in the currents of French Modernism, including Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism. Among the paintings in the exhibition are his first major acquisitions, two works by Cézanne: “Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat,” 1875–76, which Paley acquired directly from the artist’s son; and “L’Estaque,” 1879–83, a landscape that was formerly owned by Claude Monet. There are also eight works by Picasso that trace his artistic evolution over the first three decades of the Twentieth Century, including the masterpiece of his Rose Period, the monumental “Boy Leading a Horse,” 1905–06, and Cubist experiments ranging from the highly faceted planes of “An Architect’s Table,” 1912, to collage-inspired compositions such as “Still Life with Guitar,” 1920.
Other modern masters included in the exhibition are Gauguin, whose striking painting “The Seed of the Areoi,” 1892, exemplifies the artist’s Modernist interest in revitalizing Western art by taking inspiration from his experiences in the “exotic” French colony of Tahiti. Several paintings by Matisse present his hallmark decorative approach to composition through the use of allover patterns, flattened colors and compressed space. André Derain challenged the traditional dictates of representation with Fauvist landscapes, such as “Bridge over the Riou,” 1906, in which he deployed color arbitrarily — making a tree trunk blue — rather than naturalistically.
The drawings and paintings of Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and George Rouault and the sculptures of Aristide Maillol and Auguste Rodin encompass a diverse range of stylistic approaches to the human figure.
Paley’s tastes extended beyond French Modernism. The exhibition also includes examples of the realistic landscapes of American artist Edward Hopper, the surrealistic biomorphism of the Spanish artist Joan Miró and the expressionistic distortions of Irish-born British painter Francis Bacon. While the exhibition highlights the personal vision of an individual collector, it simultaneously reflects the remarkable richness and diversity of modern art across the European and North American continents.
The Portland Museum of Art is at 7 Congress Square. For information, 207-775-6148 or www.portlandmuseum.org.