ST. PETERSBURG — It’s impossible to not be inspired by the beauty and light of 19th century impressionist paintings, even still in the 21st century.
So it’s easy to understand why Salvador Dalí, who was born in 1904, would take inspiration from them as a young aspiring artist.
That’s the premise of The Dalí Museum’s current exhibition, “Dalí & the Impressionists: Monet, Renoir, Degas & More.” It showcases paintings by impressionist masters on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, along with early works by Dalí, some dating back to when he was 14 years old and hadn’t yet begun formal training.
The impressionist movement happened in France in the mid 1870s, when a group of painters bucked artistic tradition by depicting scenes from everyday life rather than religious subjects, often painting outside to capture the light with loose brushstrokes.
They were rejected by the official Paris Salon system of exhibitions so they put on their own shows, a move that was considered rebellious at the time. Impressionism is widely considered the first “modern art” movement.
It’s not only a treat to see impressionist works from heavy hitters Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas and Matisse, but it’s also impressive to see the way Dalí adopted their techniques, in some cases making pieces uncannily similar to ones made in the century before he was born.
That is uncanny because Dalí wouldn’t have had a great deal of exposure to the works as a youth living in Spain. There were two major exhibitions of French Impressionists in Barcelona when Dalí was a boy, but it’s unlikely that he would have gone to them, said Peter Tush, the museum’s curator of education, although he may have seen the catalogs.
Dalí's family was friendly with the family of the Spanish neo-impressionist Ramon Pichot. Dalí visited the family’s home often, where he was encouraged to pursue art. Tush said this was likely his main exposure to impressionism.
Once inspired, Dalí developed an obsession with the techniques and individual artists, which he recorded in a series of journals. One of those journals is on display, and allows you to marvel at his penmanship.
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Quotes from the journal about color and light are blown up on the two-tone pale peach walls in the gallery.
A grouping of paintings includes Claude Monet’s 1888 painting ”Antibes (Afternoon Effect),” depicting the town on the Cote d’Azur, backed by the Alps with Paul Gaugin’s “Entrance to the Village of Osny.” Dalí's “Cadaques” from 1923 is also there, illustrating his take on landscape and sense of place of the town where his family vacationed.
Another pairing illustrates the influence the impressionist use of dramatic color had on Dalí. Maurice de Vlaminck’s fiery “Suburban Landscape” — laden with hues of red, blue, yellow and green — shows a Paris street with feathery treetops. Dalí's richly toned “Orchard at Es Llaner (Cadaques)” not only has a similar depth of color, but also the movement and energy created by quick brushstrokes.
Another compelling grouping explores portraiture, with “Self-Portrait with a Beret” by Paul Cezanne and Edgar Degas’ “Portrait of a Man” featuring a dashing man about town. Dalí's “Self Portrait (Figueres)” was painted when he was about 17. He dressed himself up and made this dramatic portrait to create his artistic identity as he was about to embark on his artistic training in Madrid.
It’s an early glimpse into the larger-than-life character Dalí would become. And just like the impressionists before him, his rebellious spirit would lead to innovations that would change the history of art forever.
What to know if you go to The Dalí Museum
“Dalí & the Impressionists: Monet, Renoir, Degas & More.” The exhibition includes an interactive element called Your Portrait that uses artificial intelligence to transform your selfie into an impressionist work of art. On view through April 28. $12-$29. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, except on Thursdays when the museum closes at 8 p.m. The Dalí Museum, 1 Dalí Blvd. (Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue SE), St. Petersburg. 727-823-3767. thedali.org.