STRUNG-OUT Washingtonians who can't wait until January for their next fix of impressionist painting -- that's when the National Museum of Women in the Arts opens its Berthe Morisot show -- can get a double hit of the stuff right now, if they're willing to take a little drive (and what addict isn't?). They're not exactly full-strength, but "In Monet's Light: Theodore Robinson at Giverny" at the Baltimore Museum of Art and "The Road to Impressionism: Landscapes From Corot to Monet" at the Walters Art Museum have enough of a kick that, taken together, they may tide you over until the new year.
As suggested by the titles, Claude Monet looms like a ghost over both shows. There's not a lot of his work in either exhibition -- six pieces between the pair -- but his spirit is strongly felt throughout. In the case of the BMA show, the French painter appears as a kind of mentor to Robinson, an American artist who spent, for a time near the end of his life, several months of every year in Giverny, eventually getting chummy with, not to mention inspiration from, the master of the impressionist landscape.
Ultimately though, it is Robinson's figurative work (most especially the portraits of his preferred model, a lovely young Frenchwoman named Marie), and not his landscapes, that are his strong suit. While one of Robinson's steeply raked outdoor scenes, the 1887 "Valley of the Seine, Giverny," is modern-looking enough to suggest the San Francisco cityscapes of Wayne Thiebaud, it is the influence of Monet on Robinson's hazy atmospherics that resonates most clearly.
Unlike in "In Monet's Light," which portrays Monet as a kind of sun around which Robinson orbited, the impressionist painter is not the center, but the terminus, of the Walters's "Road."
This landscape show is organized, rather literally, like a walk through the countryside -- the countryside in this case being the parts of France surrounding the town of Barbizon, from which the so-called Barbizon School of plein-air painting takes its name. Postcard-pretty scenic overlooks by Jean-Francois Millet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and others come at every step of the way, along with mile markers of sorts in the form of actual artist's palettes once used by Corot, Louis-Eugene Boudin and Charles-Francois Daubigny, which serve to illustrate the evolution of technique.
While the trip, like the exhibition itself, ends with Monet's "Windmills Near Zaandam" (hardly a masterpiece, but who's counting?), it's actually a series of several works found at a way station midway through the journey that steals the Walters show. Known for its extensive holdings of paintings by the less-than-household-name Leon Bonvin -- the museum has, in fact, the world's largest Bonvin collection -- the Walters makes a wise choice in highlighting nine watercolors by this artist, whose small, emotional pictures, made during each of the four seasons and at various times of day, prefigure the work of the impressionists.
IN MONET'S LIGHT: THEODORE ROBINSON AT GIVERNY -- Through Jan. 9 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive at North Charles and 31st streets, Baltimore. 410-396-7100. www.artbma.org. Open Wednesday-Friday 11 to 5; first Thursday of every month until 8; Saturdays and Sundays 11 to 6. Admission to the special exhibition is $12; seniors, college students and groups of 12 or more $10; children ages 6 to 18 $6; children under 6 free. Weekend admission is by timed ticket, available at the museum box office or through Ticketmaster at 202-397-7328 or www.ticketmaster.com (service and handling charges apply).
THE ROAD TO IMPRESSIONISM: LANDSCAPES FROM COROT TO MONET -- Through Jan. 17 at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St., Baltimore. 410-547-9000. www.thewalters.org. Open Wednesday-Sunday 10 to 5; also open after hours from 5:30 to 10 on the second Friday of every month. $10; seniors $8; college students ages 18 to 25 $6; children ages 6 to 17 $2; children under 6 and members free; free admission on Saturdays from 10 to 1 and all day on the first Thursday of the month.
Public programs associated with the Baltimore Museum of Art exhibition include:
Saturday from 9 to 1 -- Sona Johnston, BMA curator of painting and sculpture, Monet authority Paul Tucker and David Park Curry, curator of American arts at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts present lectures on Monet and Robinson. $45; members $30; free for full-time students with ID. To register or for more information, call 410-396-6321.
Sunday at 1 -- Film screening: "Conte d'automne" ("Autumn Tale"). Free.
Sunday from 2 to 4 -- "Hands-On: A Sense of Place." Visitors ages 5 and up create pastel paintings in the museum's sculpture garden.
Thursday from 5 to 8 -- Exhibition tours and live music accompany the museum's extended hours.
Nov. 7 at 1 -- Film screening: "Manon des sources" ("Manon of the Spring"). Free.
Nov. 14 at 1 -- Film screening: "Une partie de campagne" ("A Day in the Country"). Free.
Dec. 9 at 1 -- Gallery talk.
Public programs associated with the Walters exhibition include:
Nov. 6 from 9 to 4:30 -- "From Lascaux to the Louvre: French Art Through the Ages." Experts on French art present lectures. $90; seniors and members $45; students $5. To register or for more information, call 410-547-9000, Ext. 237.