Three Amsterdam museums are cooperating this fall to create a series of exhibitions that explore a unifying movement in the arts: naturalism.
The Van Gogh Museum, Foam (the Amsterdam photography museum) and the Eye Film Institute recently kicked off the collaboration, which examines the theme by connecting each museum’s medium of focus.
But it’s the Van Gogh’s exhibition, “Illusions of Reality,” running through Jan. 16 (Paulus Potterstraat 7; 31-20-570-5200; www.vangoghmuseum.nl), that serves as a compelling anchor for the collection of shows. Using the writings of the French author Emile Zola as a starting point, “Illusions” identifies naturalism, with its artistic heyday between 1875 and 1918, as driving a convergence of literature, film, painting and photography.
Naturalism came of age in Europe at a moment when industrialization was changing the relationship between man and his surroundings, and technology was rewriting artistic practice. The latter is remarkably illustrated in the studies of the painter Jules-Alexis Muenier, who prepared his family portrait, “Beautiful Days,” by making a series of photos of a model family in an outdoor idyll. The black and white photographs are starker than the final product — the mother older, the head of the family less like a patriarch, the tones harsher than the painting’s sweet, diffuse lighting portrays.
The show centers on the influence of Zola, who pushed for painters to use ordinary people as subjects for their art. As you wind your way through the galleries, you can see the thematic focus of the age’s art evolve: hard work replaces the rural idyll, and portraits of urban poverty displace those of well-to-do aristocrats. Zola’s influence is even seen crossing over to cinema: scenes plucked from Albert Capellani’s 1913 film “Germinal,” based on a Zola novel, show rioting workers in a section of the exhibition called “Industrialization Takes Command.”