by buford davis
A pair of visitors stand close, examining the unassuming structure that stretches like a phantasm across the shimmering surface of the Thames, shrouded eternally in the diffusive gloom.
Claude Monet’s “Charing Cross Bridge” is one of at least 37 works in his series of the same name that he executed of the central London structure between 1899 and 1904. He was drawn to depict the rolling fog born of the pervasive English moisture and coal dust that was an urban byproduct of Industrial Revolution pollutants.
“This is a dark, smoggy day that you don’t automatically think, ‘This is beautiful, let’s paint this,’” said Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art executive director Tarissa Tiberti. “But Monet is celebrating it.”
The canvas is part of the gallery’s exhibit Town and Country: From Degas to Picasso, a partnership between the BGFA and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, which runs through Feb. 20. It features a media range, including paintings, photographs, sketches, lithographs and woodcuts.
The 47 works curated by Claire C. Whitner, now the senior curator of Collections at Wellesley College’s Davis Museum, are divided for viewing into six themes: Realism and the Urban Artist; Daumier and Urban Realism; The Bourgeoisie and Countryside Retreats; The City as Muse; City Life — Seeing and Being Seen and Modernism; and Urban Disenchantment.
“Modernity is inscribed in the idea that we are all living in the cities that first came to be in the 19th century,” said Whitner. “I think Las Vegas, in many ways, is the perfect place to ponder our origins in modernity. We have Paris right across the street from us, and it seems the perfect place to talk about how Paris is projected, and how we think about it as an urban space, when it has been repackaged for a new kind of city that could only exist now.”
A portion of the exhibit is devoted to idyllic representation of the countryside.
“Some of the bourgeoisie are able to live in the city and then go travel in the countryside,” explained Tiberti. “And for the people who live in the country, it’s still a beautiful setting. There’s not that separation of the lower class muscling about in the country and doing this backbreaking work.”
Among the works depicting this spirit is Edgar Degas’ At the Races in the Countryside, which was completed in 1869 and displays a family in an open carriage traveling away from a horse race course in the grassy background.
“I love how it looks almost like a charcoal, but there is still so much depth and detail in it,” Tiberti said. “I can feel like I am in the scene and really what it would feel like to be there on that day. These works show there is now starting to be this divide, and how do you interact as a person in your class system, the divide between the town and the country.”
Picasso’s diminutive and beautifully detailed Stuffed Shirts was created in 1900 and depicts 12 formally attired men in black jackets and cravats observing a woman on a cabaret stage.
“This is an early shift where you are starting to see that Picasso’s traditional realistic style is starting to change,” explained Tiberti. “He is taking a nod from Degas with these loose brushstrokes. He was con dent in his intelligence and his ability as an artist. And his ability to love life, and paint the way that he saw it and not feel judged.”
A popular idealization of city life developed in the late 19th century that was devoid of negative realities, including the violence of poverty and crime, overcrowded and unhygienic living conditions, and resulting diseases such as dysentery.
“It would depend on your perspective — do you know people who have seen these realities or not — that would likely determine whether you wanted to live in the city,” explained Tiberti.
Van Gogh’s Weaver is one of 28 known works he produced in the mid- 1880s that depicted the artisans in Nuenen, the Netherlands, where the artist lived for nearly two years.
“He was very concerned with poor people and the lives they were having, especially the weavers,” Tiberti said. “This trade was dying out because of the Industrial Revolution, and he was very concerned about that and wanted to pay homage. It was something very personal to him.”
The exhibit offers a complex blend of imagery that represents elements of life during this age. Jean-François Millet, Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec, Max Beckmann, Honoré-Victorin Daumier, Alfred Stieglitz, Käthe Kollwitz, John Singer Sargent and Pierre-Auguste Renoir are among the more renowned featured artists, but the show functions much more as an intimate collection of perspectives than a stable of famous names. The result is both challenging and contemplative, a window into an age that in many ways is remarkably familiar.
“We are in an interesting time period in terms of politics, of wars overseas and expanding technology,” Tiberti reflected. “Things are changing almost more rapidly than any other time period, and I think it’s very interesting to look at the Industrial Revolution period versus what we are going through now, because it is really very similar.”