No doubt against the advice of the public-relations consultants, “Whistler to Cassatt: American Artists in France,” at Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, plays down its focus on Impressionism to such a degree that the word is almost unmentioned. If “Whistler to Cassatt” is not an Impressionist exhibition, what is it? The catalogue asserts that the aim is a “sophisticated examination of cultural and aesthetic exchange as it highlights many figures, including artists of color and women, who were left out of previous histories.” (Who would consider Mary Cassatt, Cecilia Beaux, and Henry Ossawa Tanner “left out”?) What this show does do is throw a spotlight on a number of lesser known artists with works ranging from academic formalism and plein air Impressionism to Tonalism and early intimations of modernism. Thus, it might best be...


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