Arts & Culture

Tacoma Art Museum puts spotlight on Impressionist art superstars here, abroad

A quote from Pierre-Auguste Renoir launches the narrative of a famous art movement.

“One morning, one of us ran out of black; it was the birth of Impressionism.”

So begins a new exhibit of the 19th Century Impressionism art movement at the Tacoma Art Museum, which features that quote, among others, along with masterworks on its walls.

A new exhibit: “Monet, Renoir, Degas and Their Circle: French Impressionism in the Northwest” runs Sept. 28-Jan. 5. A members’ opening is 6-8 p.m. Sept. 27.

TAM executive director David Setford met with reporters before a media preview tour on Thursday.

He explained that shortly after arriving at TAM in 2018 he investigated what collections in the museum’s basement could be given new life and tied to the Northwest. He discovered its collection from the Lindberg family of Tacoma, gifted to the museum in the early 1980s.

Many of the pieces had been in storage since the early 2000s.

Setford, with the help of exhibit co-curator Margaret Bullock, then set out to see what more art by the original Impressionist artists collected in the Northwest could be added to the Tacoma exhibit.

I thought it would be a wonderful idea to put together a collection based around the Lindberg collection,” he said. “And then I was absolutely amazed by the resources that other museums in the Northwest held.”

Artists in the display include Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Gustave Caillebotte, Paul Gauguin, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas.

The TAM exhibit, Setford added, “is not just us.”

Works also are included from the Henry Art Gallery and the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, where Setford found “really wonderful works of art that related to the French Impressionist period. And ... we always tend to think about four or five as the French Impressionists, but over the period of the French Impressionist shows from the mid-1870s to 1886, there were over 30 artists who exhibited with the French Impressionists.”

Other loans to the exhibit are from the Portland Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum and several private collectors for about 50 works in total.

“It’s not by any means a show of all the great masterpieces, because it’s based about what we have in the Northwest. But it demonstrates a real richness that I don’t think a lot of people actually knew about,” said Setford.

One of the more interesting pieces on display is Edgar Degas’ “Danseuses” (Dancers), 1879, a fan-shaped painting on silk and one of TAM’s most borrowed works from its Lindberg collection.

Setford hopes something else resonates with visitors: “We forget that in their day they were such revolutionaries.”

That revolution extended overseas and eventually to the Northwest.

Setford stressed the importance of how the style carried on.

They changed the way we see, in particular the way artists see color and landscape. That is with us today,” he said. “So part of the show is how French Impressionism affected America and American painters, and a really beautiful section on how it affected the artists of the Northwest.”

Among those Northwest artists on display: Theodore Robinson, Theodore Wendel, C.C. McKim and Clara Jane Stephens.

Bullock, during the tour, recounted one of her favorite stories of the ties between art in Europe and the Northwest, with a piece that though not Impressionist, was equally revolutionary.

Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” caused a huge scandal with its appearance in an early exhibit in New York in 1913 at the historic Armory Show of contemporary art.

The next place it showed up on exhibit? Portland, Oregon, “immediately after that one show closed,” Bullock said. “The most-talked about painting in the world lands in Oregon a couple of months later.”

Exhibit information

For more information on group tours and interactive exhibits, contact or call 253-722-2460 or go to the TAM website.