Must See - Dreams & Realities @ National Museum of Singapore

Starry Night - Vincent Van Gogh
Masterpieces from the Musee D'Orsay are currently on show at the National Museum of Singapore. These paintings from the late 19th century and early 20th century have long been ambassadors of the French artistic genius of the time. What makes the exhibition especially interesting is the intelligent curation that juxtaposes the two main French schools of the late 19th century: the Academics and the Avant-garde with the Impressionists, as they address common themes.

In particular, the exhibition look at how the avant-garde reacted to the new medium of photography and how artists generally reacted toward the fast pace developments brought about by industralization.

Some chose to pursue their desire to capture contemporary subjects; others who were anguished and disorientated by the onslaught of massive change, sought refuge in their dreams and imagination founded on mythologies, legends and ancient civilisations. Their varied response generated new ways of depicting reality and a proliferation of artistic styles.

Titled Dreams & Reality: Masterpieces of Painting, Drawing & Photography of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, the exhibition will run until February 5 and is really a must see. It is divided into four main sections: Allegory and History, Man and Contemporary Life, Man and Nature and Solitude. Allegory and History .

The Birth of Venus by Alexandre Cabanel
In the first section, two nudes highlight the differences between the Academics and the avant garde.
Venus in Paphos, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Cabanel's Venus and its virtuoso technique is a typical example of the popular and official artistist taste of the Second Empire, and ofter viewed a a symbol of the courtesans who blossomed in Napoleon III's Paris. Its mythological subject matter was arguable a pretext for the portrayal of a nude figure in a lascivious pose and the painting came to represent the corruption, decadence and amorality of that time. Its popularity undermined the intellectual foundation of the Academie francais and revived the tradition of gallant mythology.

Meanwhile, Ingres present another Venus, but this type the work is more experimental, as he portrayed a distofted body (the line of her back is too curved, and her neck and shoulder are joined at an awkward angle) .

Similar differences on the stylistic rendering of other themes, such as war or work are also evident in the exhibition. As the French society transited from an agrarian to an urban one, some artists felt nostalgic towards the countryside as a sort of "lost paradise," while others denounced the archaic conditions and exploitation of peasants. And as Paris modernised an array of new leisure activies sprung up and artists began to discover the beauty of modern life by painting new plances like theatres and public gardens.
Emile Bernard, The Harvest or Breton Landscape

Eva Gonzales, A Boax at Theatre des Italiens

Some of the highlights of the exhibition include:

Claude Money, study of a figure outdoors, woman with a parasol loooking to the right

Edgar Degas, Dancers Climbing a staircase

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The female Clown Cha-U-Kao

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres blended myths of classical antiquity with history and reality, creating a new trend that was perpetuated in the Salons during the second half of the 19th century. Gods and goddesses were increasingly depicted as stylised figures, stripped of meaning.