There's a good feeling in the air at the Metropolitan Meseum these days. Not only did the museum score beautifully with its recently opened Andre Meyer Galleries of 19th Century European Paintings and Sculpture and with its new American Wing, it is also doing itself proud by hosting a number of excellent special summer exhibitions.
Probably the most dramatic of these shows is the group of 50 modern masterworks on loan from the Museum of Modern Art. It is truly amazing what a shift in locale and in lighting can do to paitings. Coming upon these familiar works within this totally different environment is almost like seeing them for the first time.
I hardly recognized Rousseau's "The Sleeping Gypsy," probably because I was so accustomed to seeing it on its special wall at MOMA that I had stopped really looking at it. And that it also true of many of the other old favorites which unfortunately by now have taken on some of the characterizations of the paintings that have been hanging on either side of them for so many years.
It's obviously a good idea of move works of art around a bit -- especially into totally new quarters. I for one am especially grateful that this loan took place, because it gave me the opportunity to appreciate what a blockbuster Braque's 1911 cubist "Man With a Guitar" really is.
Another loan exhibition on view consists of 40 19th-century French paintings drawn from private New York collections. Monet and Van Gogh are particularly well represented here, although fine examples by Corot, Bonnard, Cezanne, Pissaro, and Lautrec are also included. If I had my pick of any of these works, I would unhesitatingly choose Degas's magnificent "The Dance Class" and Van Gogh's poignant "Shoes."
And while the visitor is in that section of the museum, I would suggest a short walk over to the galleries where some of the Metropolitan's permanent collection of post-World War II paintings are temporarily on view. Here again, a shift in locale brings about a shift in response to certain paintings. In this case I found Jackson Pollock's huge "Autumn Rhythm" even more exciting than it has been in its various previous locations.
For a change of pace, the viewer will welcome the small but very interesting exhibition devoted to the art of Leon Spilliaert, one of the outstanding Belgian artists of the 20th century. Drawn from the first American showing of Spilliaert's work assembled earlier this year by the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., this group of works on paper is part of the Belgium Today program being celebrated in this country on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Belgian independence.
Spilliaert's art is highly idiosyncratic and difficult to categorize. Although it contains echoes of the work of the older Belgian Symbolists and of Redon and Munch, these watercolors, pastels, and ink and colored-pencil drawings tend more toward the exotic and the melodramatic than was true of those who influenced him. He was rather inconsistent, and at times came dangerously close to being illustrational and modish, while at others he proved himself to be quite original and serious.
There is an undercurrent of the macabre in his work which tends to weaken its overall effect, even though that quality is counterbalanced by a wry wit and extremely sophisticated sense of design. Only in the series of pictures devoted to trees and to trees within landscapes is he completely free of his tendency. Even so, I found several of his pieces quite remarkable, especially his 1908 "Woman on the Dike."
Although it is on display in the new American Wing, "American Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints" is not a part of the wing's permanent installation. I wish it were, though, because this is an absolutely first-class show. The problem lies in the fact that these orks are extremely sensitive to light and cannot be displayed for any length of time.
The range of art on view here is wide and the quality is extremely high. A great deal of what went on in American art during these past 300 years is represented here by drawings and watercolors and, in some instances, by elaborate studies and detailed prints. There are very early portraits, decorative designs, landscape and figure studies, an assortment of 19th- and 20 th-century etchings, engravings, and lithographs -- and an excellent selection of photographs.
The group of Winslow Homer watercolors is particularly beautiful and proves once again that no one could surpass him in this medium. I cannot imagine any watercolor I would prefer owning to his "Hurricane, Bahamas."
It is a delightful and rewarding exhibition.
Last but certainly not the least of these special shows is the fifth in the series of exhibitions devoted to drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection. " 17th and 18th Century French Drawings" contains some extraordinary works by, among others, Claude Lorrain, Watteau, Oudry, Callot, David, Greuze, and Fragonard. I don't know of any greater landscape drawing than Lorrain's "Roman Landscape," which remains as fresh and clear in one's memory as it does on paper. And how many artists could match Fragonard's skill at reducing complex forms and details into the simple design and patter of a drawing like his "The Draftsman"?