Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Second impressions

To the Victorian mind, it was a decidedly off-message image. A woman, probably a prostitute, sits in a bar with only a drink for company. Her glass is filled with absinthe, as potent a spirit as money can buy. With the picture's heady mix of sex and alcohol, it is little wonder that Arthur Kay, the upright Scottish collector who had bought the painting in 1892, so rapidly sold it on.

But times change. Later this week, when L'Absinthe is unveiled in Scotland for the first time in more than 100 years, Edgar Degas's masterpiece will be one of the star attractions of the festival exhibition taking place at the National Galleries of Scotland.

Impressionism and Scotland will present more than 100 paintings by French, Dutch and Scottish artists whose careers intertwined around the end of the 19th century.

A large and valuable chunk of their output was bought during the passion for collecting that swept through the wealthy industrialists of Glasgow. More than that, say art experts, the relationships between buyers, dealers and artists would create a unique moment in history. Sadly, for Scotland at least, many of these extraordinary private collections were broken up long ago and the great masterpieces sold on, often to American collectors.

The Edinburgh show not only brings back many of the most famous works, “it will also tell us a great deal about a very important episode in the development of our own national school of painting,” said Michael Clarke, the gallery's director.

Among the most famous paintings to come to Edinburgh are At the Café La Mie, by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, James McNeill Whistler's Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge and many of Degas's great works including L'Absinthe and Jockeys Before the Race. There are three paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, others by Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse, and Paul Gauguin, and eight works by Claude Monet.

Part of Monday's Times preview of the big Impressionist show. If you want to read more, you can either wait till the other papers catch up on Friday, of go to the full version of the Times article here: Scotland's second impression.

If you're interested in the continuing row over the Caltongate development, go here for the latest coverage, including reaction to the news that Unesco will send an inspector to assess Edinburgh's claim to be a World Heritage site: City at risk.

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