On a recent Friday afternoon hundreds of art-lovers descended on the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth for the opening of its latest exhibition, “Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from the Musée d’Orsay.” The exhibit brings together about 70 paintings from artists such as Monet, Degas, Renoir and other important impressionists and explores the development of that style from the late 1850s through the early 20th century.
The collection is on loan from the Musée d’Orsay, a museum located in Paris, France, along the left bank of the Seine River and housed in a former train station. The exhibit is in the Kimbell’s new Renzo Piano Pavilion, which opened last fall, and the Kimbell is the only venue in the world — outside of the Musée d’Orsay — where this particular collection can be seen.
The Kimbell’s permanent collection is, by its own admission, small. It’s composed of fewer than 350 pieces, but “is distinguished by an extraordinary level of artistic quality and importance,” the museum says on its website. The collection contains African and Oceanic art as well as Asian and pre-Columbian groupings. The Kimbell’s collection stops at the mid-20th century, as the neighboring Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth handles art from that time forward. The Kimbell recognizes that another neighbor, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, concentrates on art from our own country.
The most extensive section of the Kimbell’s permanent collection is European. Included in this area is “The Torment of Saint Anthony,” the first known painting of Michelangelo. He completed the work when he was 12 or 13 years old, biographers believe, and it’s the only Michelangelo painting in an American collection. Another major piece is “Mountain Peak with Drifting Clouds” by Caspar David Friedrich, who is considered one of the greatest German landscape painters of his time. When the Kimbell obtained “Mountain Peak” in 1984, it was the first Friedrich work in a collection outside of Europe. The collection also includes one of Matisse’s last works, “L’Asie,” as well as “La Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide,” one of two landscapes that helped launch the career of Monet. A landscape by Cézanne, “Maison Maria with a View of Château Noir,” is painted in a style that was considered to be a major inspiration for, among others, Picasso, who led the way into cubism and early 20th-century art.
The museum’s policy statement, adopted in June 1966, helps the museum define its collection and aids in the acquisition of new pieces. The museum will only take on art of “definitive excellence — works that may be said to define an artist or type regardless of medium, period or school of origin.”
The beginnings of the museum can be traced back to 1936, when Kay and Velma Kimbell established the Kimbell Art Foundation. When Kay Kimbell died in 1964, he left his fortune to the foundation; his wife donated her part of the estate to the foundation a week after her husband’s death. The foundation spent the next several years acquiring art and choosing an architect named Louis Kahn, and the museum opened to the public in 1972.
Kahn designed 16 parallel vaults, each 100 feet long and 20 feet wide and high, that are gathered into three wings. Most of the Kimbell’s galleries are on the ground floor to allow for natural light. The main building is connected to the new Piano Pavilion by a gravel-and-stone walkway through a grove of trees. The 85,000-square-foot building will be used primarily for the Kimbell’s special exhibitions, allowing the original Kahn Building to house the permanent collection, which often had to be placed in storage for months at a time when a visiting collection was on display.
A visit to the Kimbell wouldn’t be complete without a stop in The Buffet Restaurant, the museum’s famous on-site eatery overseen by chef Shelby Schafer. Schafer is also the author of “The Kimbell Cookbook,” which contains 335 recipes from the Kimbell kitchen. The book is available in the restaurant as well as the museum gift shop.
The daily lunch menu varies, but on the Friday of the impressionist exhibit opening, options included a couple of soups; several salads, including the Kimbell Chicken Salad; the Scarborough Faire quiche, consisting of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme; and a turkey-ham-provolone sandwich. The cost of lunch is $9.50, $11 or $12, depending on the size of plate a diner chooses. (Our friendly hostess said the small plate is good for child-sized portions as she directed us to the food line to satisfy our “emotional and food needs.”)
After the “Faces of Impressionism” exhibit closes in January, the next exhibition at the Kimbell will be the “Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass.” That collection includes two major paintings from Van Gogh, the Picasso still life “Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle” and paintings and sculptures by Monet, Matisse, Renoir, Rothko and others. The 37-piece collection will be on public display from March 1 to May 24. Admission to the Bass exhibition will be free.
The opening of the “Faces of Impressionism” exhibit was at noon on a Friday, so a morning trip to Fort Worth included a few other stops before the Kimbell. All were within just a few minutes driving time of the Cultural District, where the museum is located.
The Montgomery Street Antique Mall features 61,000 square feet of dealer booths. Even though we were short on time, our finds at Montgomery Street included a 12-drawer 1940s modern dresser from a booth whose owner kindly left a sign saying all prices were negotiable and listing her phone number. We also came home with a cookbook featuring recipes from the Villa d’Este resort in northern Italy and three record albums — one by jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman and two by Ray Charles — for $1 each. Berry Good Buys is a resale shop benefitting SafeHaven, an organization assisting victims of domestic violence. The trip to Berry Good Buys resulted in an orange eyelet tunic, a giraffe-print jacket (which is a lot cooler than it sounds) and a cookbook featuring recipes of the American Southwest. Our last stop was a gathering of shops in a complex called the Foch Street Warehouses in the West 7th Street Corridor.
There are many other shops and restaurants in the West 7th Corridor, which is at the intersection of University Drive North and West Seventh Street and is part of the Cultural District. Several art galleries are also located in the district, and the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo is held each January in the Will Rogers Memorial Center. The Cultural District is also home to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, the Cattle Raisers Museum, Leonard’s Department Store Museum and the Forth Worth Science and History Museum, as well as sister art museums, the Amon Carter Museum and the Modern Art Museum.
The Kimbell’s “Faces of Impressionism” exhibit will be on display until January 25. Admission to this showing is $18 for adults, $14 for children 6-11 and $16 for senior adults and students. Children under 6 enter free. Admission is half-price all day on Tuesdays and on Friday evenings. Admission to the Kimbell’s permanent collection is always free. Information about the Kimbell can be found at www.KimbellArt.org or by calling 817/332-8451. The Kimbell Art Museum is located at 3333 Camp Bowie Boulevard.