Impressionism and After: The reimagining of Gallery 6

It’s been 11 years since Gallery 6 was transformed from a period room of 18th-century paintings and decorative arts into the place to see the museum’s famed Impressionist works. Now it has had another makeover and reopened this month as Impressionism and After.

With two of the gallery’s works going on loan, Tyler Cann, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, needed to do something to fill the empty spaces. “We decided to just go for it and reinstall the whole gallery.”

A serene space—that was the goal for the refreshed look. The room’s formerly stark white walls have softened to a cream, while the vitrines add pinkish-plum pops of color. Along with having a more contemporary and calming feel, the reinstalled gallery is more accessible—the labels feature larger fonts and are placed slightly lower on the walls.

The gallery also offers a new perspective on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist work, striving to be more relevant to the context of contemporary Hawai’i. “A lot of the things about modernism—what we think of as the modern world—start here,” explains Cann. “It’s a critical moment, too, in terms of global politics involving Hawai’i and colonial expansion across the Pacific.” So along with Monet and van Gogh, you see works by Ambrose Patterson and Grace Hudson depicting views of the islands.

To bring a bit of the social environment back into the gallery, focused on Camille Pissarro, who has a fascinating history of his own. “Everybody thinks of him as French, but he was born in the Danish West Indies,” says Cann. “He went to a completely Afro-Caribbean school as a kid. He lived in Venezuela. He was a Sephardic Jew of Portuguese descent and an anarchist. That information somehow felt relevant to a place like Hawai’i, where people have complex identities. That is something that I wanted to make sure was here for people.”

An explosive painting by Patterson tells another story. “[Mount Kīlauea, The House of Everlasting Fire] is from 1917, which is the same date as the Monet here,” says Cann. And formally, it’s a really innovative work. The handling of paint in that work is something you don’t see much of in 1917. I wanted to see the work produced in Hawai’i in this gallery as a reminder. He was Australian and trained in Paris, so it’s not impossible that he knew some of these other artists from France.”