Portland Art Museum presents landscapes from Paul Allen's collection

PAM NaturePaul Allen is not only the owner of the Portland Trail Blazers and a Microsoft co-founder and a multibillionaire, he also loves art and wants everybody to enjoy it.

Some of his best art is on display at Portland Art Museum in “Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection,” through Jan. 10. The Portland Art Museum and the Seattle Art Museum are collaborating with the Allen Family Collection to feature the 39 works from European and American artists, spanning five centuries — from Jan Brueghel the Younger’s series of the five senses to Canaletto’s celebrated views of Venice to landscapes of Joseph Mallord William Turner, Paul Cezanne, Gustav Klimt, David Hockney and Gerhard Richter, and American perspectives by the likes of Thomas Moran, Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe. And, perhaps the most popular and well-known: works by French master Claude Monet, five Impressionist canvas paintings, including the famous “The Water-Lily Pond” from 1919.

Allen, in an interview associated with the “Seeing Nature” exhibit, says that he expressed his creative side as a young boy, mesmerzied by a book about Picasso and learning how to draw and paint with watercolors.

“I can’t tell you I was a natural, but I was decent,” says Allen, who routinely visited the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington, as well as, later in life, the Seattle Art Museum. Famed music producer David Geffen influenced him to collect, and “I’ve always been really taken by Impressionism, so my first big purchase was Monet’s ‘The Water-Lily Pond’ in 1992. That’s my most important piece.”

Indeed, “The Water-Lily Pond” reigns as the most impressive piece to Brian Ferriso, The Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. director of the Portland Art Museum.

PAM“The more I learn about Monet, he’s a very interesting figure,” Ferriso says. “He’s celebrated in name recognition and water lilies, but I don’t think people understand the level and depth — this is an artist who struggled with every picture. He did them over and over. He was never satisfied, always asking questions, always willing to redo. When you look at 'The Water-Lily,’ that’s a combination of years of exploration.”

The exhibition features many images of Venice, including exquisite detail of 18th-century Canaletto, who inspired Turner (1841), who influenced Moran (1888).

Brueghels series of the five senses is quite striking in its romantic/fabricated aesthetic detail, and imagery based on smell, touch, taste, hearing and sight, circa 1625 (the oldest pieces in the exhibit).

Klimt’s timeless “Birch Forest” (1903) is unique because, like the portrait in the movie “Women in Gold,” it was restituted from the Nazis after World War II.

Meanwhile, the Englishman Hockney’s spectacular “The Grand Canyon” (1998) is 21 canvases, 16-by-24 inches each based on photos — an offshoot of his work as a theater set designer.

The beauty of landscape painting is that even novice art enthusiasts can stand (or sit on couches in the exhibition space) and observe the time and place, and put themselves in it.

“It’s very accessible. We live with it, and it’s fun to see what we see with our eyes and come in here and think about how humanity has seen the landscape through the years,” Ferriso says. “The whole idea is you want visitors to have that experience of, ‘It takes you somewhere else.’”

Allen, whose Vulcan Inc. has opened a new gallery in Seattle (Pivot Art & Culture), has branched out to African and Aboriginal art, but he has been drawn to landscapes. He says in the “Seeing Nature” interview: “People talk about how our brains are wired to see landscapes, to look at landscapes, and to see what’s going on in them. So there’s something about landscapes that seems almost universally attractive. It’s a way of looking outward, but at the same time the artist is putting his own expression into the depiction of the landscape.”

The exhibit goes to other cities after Portland — The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the New Orleans Museum of Art, before being presented at the Seattle Art Museum in 2017.

“I miss them all already!” Allen says of his pieces, in the interview. “In particular, though I will miss Klimt’s ‘Birch Forest,’ the Hopper ‘Clamdigger’ and Hockney’s ‘The Grand Canyon.’”

The exhibit is five years in the making, Ferriso says. In addition to the display of 39 masterpieces, there also will be lectures and discussions, including about how the brain processes art — the Allen Institute for Brain Science teaming with the OHSU Brain Institute and NW Noggin on an interpretive gallery and a series of public programs.

“These masterpieces have never before been on display together,” Ferrison says. “(Allen’s) willingness to share his landscape masterpieces with our visitors offers an unprecedented chance to be inspired by works of art.”

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