MFA exhibits works by Rodin, Monet and other masters • St Pete Catalyst

The new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, featuring works by many of the world’s greatest impressionists, is impressive to the max.

On loan from the prestigious Los Angeles County Museum of Art, True Nature: Rodin and the Age of Impressionism opens Saturday. It includes famous sculptures by revolutionary naturalist August Rodin (1840-1917), as well as canvases by some of the French master’s most iconic contemporaries, including Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas and Pierre Auguste-Renior.

Stanton Thomas, curator of the Museum of Fine Arts, with Rodin’s “Preaching of Saint John the Baptist”.

During a Friday morning media preview, Senior Director of Collections and Exhibits Stanton Thomas couldn’t help but smile. “We have an excellent track record in delivering major and innovative projects,” said Thomas. “But this one is particularly striking as it includes nearly 40 works by Rodin and then 15 other major Impressionist paintings.”

They are all together for very good reasons. “Rodin was a very close friend of Monet, even if they didn’t always get along,” Thomas explained. “He was friends with Renoir; they sometimes worked together. He knew Cezanne. He knew Pissaro.

“The exhibition really gives you a much fuller picture of his life and why it was considered so groundbreaking. How Rodin was really part of this milieu that really questioned what art was, the way in which art art was made and the way art was made at that time.

Many of Rodin’s cast bronze sculptures are life-size or larger; the exhibition halls in the Hazel Hough wing of the museum have been fitted out, by Thomas and his team, to give them the respite they deserve.

Edgar Degas, The Bellelli Sisters (Giovanna and Giuliana Bellelli), 1865-1866. Oil on canvas, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA.

“What a phenomenal team,” says Anne-Marie Russell, acting director of the MFA since September. “They worked so hard. I think they put together the most magnificent exhibition possible with these objects. Every location has been so well thought out – the eyes, the sight lines, the pointing, the gestures, they activate the space in such an exciting way.

Although it was originally planned for a 2020 stay at the museum, true nature was delayed, first by the arrival of the Covid, then by scheduling conflicts (these are of course high-demand works, and they are sought after by art museums around the world).

true nature is the first major MFA salon to open under Russell’s watch.

She moved her home to St. Pete from Sarasota, where she worked before being hired for the acting gig, though she still travels south on weekends.

Paul Cézanne, Boy in a Straw Hat, 1896, oil on canvas. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA.

Yet Russell enthuses, her new adopted hometown has left her breathless.

“This museum is so woven into the fabric of this community,” she said. “The love and support for this institution in this community is truly overwhelming and beautiful. And I feel so honored to be a part of it.

Per capita, she added, “St. Pete’s museum game can’t be beat.” It’s incredible. For me, the strongest asset is all the museums put together. All in all, it says so much about this community that it supports so many museums in such a concentrated area.

“And each of these institutions brings something specific in its own way.”

True Nature: Rodin and the Age of Impressionism opens Saturday and will be visible until March 26.

Saint Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts website

Julia P. Cluff