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by Adrianne O. Bratis

 Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906), The Large Bathers, 1906. Oil on canvas, 82-7/8 x 98-3/4 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund.

 

A year after Paul Cézanne's death in 1906, the Paris Salon d'Automne staged a retrospective of the artist's work, exhibiting some fifty-six paintings and a number of watercolors. It was a watershed moment in the history of art. The inclusion of his work in the 1913 Armory Show in New York also offered American artists a new direction. Cézanne played a vital role in the history of modernism, and for many artists, their encounter with his work made a lasting impression. His artistic vision anticipated Cubism and fueled a succession of artistic movements.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973), The Bathers, 1956. Bronze, variable dimensions. Kykuit, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Nelson A. Rockefeller Bequest.







An exhibition, Cézanne and Beyond, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, examines the seismic shift provoked by this pivotal figure, examining him as a catalyst and touchstone for artists who followed, shaping their artistic development. The sixteen artists included in the show–Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Piet Mondrian, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, Fernand Léger, Giorgio Morandi, Liubov Popova, Max Beckmann, Alberto Giacometti, Arshile Gorky, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, Brice Marden, and Jeff Wall–repeatedly examined Cézanne's work as they formed their own artistic identities. They provide us as viewers with new lenses through which to examine Cézanne. Looking through sixteen pairs of eyes, we understand Cézanne the colorist, the structuralist, the abstractionist; we examine his multiplicity of motifs, his lifelong efforts at the perfect painting, his humor and wit.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973), The Bathers, 1956. Bronze, variable dimensions. Kykuit, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Nelson A. Rockefeller Bequest.

Picasso gained a familiarity with Cézanne's work from his first visits to Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century, and he invoked the Master again and again throughout his long and varied career. Cézanne's bathers, in particular, had a huge impact on Picasso. As early as 1905, the young artist purchased a Cézanne lithograph based on the painting Bathers at Rest (now in the collection of the Barnes Foundation) displaying it in his studio for his own study as well as for fellow artists who visited him. When he later visited the Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d'Automne he saw the Large Bathers, which would have a lasting influence. Perhaps Picasso saw the painting even earlier, as it generates such a fascinating conversation with his landmark Les Demoiselles d'Avignon painted in early 1907. The positioning of related yet isolated figures, the compression of space into flat planes on the surface, and the painting's monumentality all conjure the late Cézanne painting, linking the two inextricably together.

Almost fifty years later, Picasso purchased the Cézanne painting Five Bathers (1877–1878), and shortly thereafter began crafting sculptural figures, nailing scraps of wood together to make a standing group of bathers. Later cast in bronze, these bathers gather around as if on the banks of a river, watching their companion wading. The grouping evokes the Large Bathers painting––the figures are staid and static, solitary and individual, even as they stand together in a group, and the ambiguity of space within each piece invites the viewer in to explore its facets in a physical way. The classical subject of bathers takes on new meaning in the hands of each artist, with Picasso carrying Cézanne's investigations forward to achieve his own uniquely twentieth-century goals.

Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906), Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair, 1877. Oil on canvas, 28-9/16 x 22-1/16 inches. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; bequest of Robert Treat Paine II.

Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954), Woman in Blue, 1937. Oil on canvas, 36-1/2 x 29 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art; gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen, 1956.

Matisse's interaction with Cézanne's work came relatively early in his career; he saw Cézanne's paintings at Ambroise Vollard's Paris gallery and at the Musée Luxembourg in the early 1890s. By 1899, Matisse had purchased his first Cézanne painting, the pivotal Three Bathers (1879–1882), one of Cézanne's most important bather paintings. Sacrificing much financially to hold onto this painting for over thirty years, Matisse referred to it frequently as an inspiration for his own work, and made an example of it for his students at the Académie Matisse. As his student, the American painter Max Weber, remembered: 'His silence before the picture was more evocative and more eloquent than words. At moments such as this a mood of enthusiasm and veneration filled the studio.'[1] While Matisse also repeatedly quoted Cézanne's own admonition, 'Beware of the influential master,' it is clear that Matisse engaged in an intense and lifelong conversation with Cézanne, evident in paintings like his Woman in Blue. This portrait reveals Matisse's close study of paintings like Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair, a work he saw at the 1907 Salon d'Automne and again at the 1936 retrospective exhibition at the Musée de l'Orangerie commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the artist's death, just a year before Matisse painted his Woman. Clearly making the subject his own, Matisse amplifies Cézanne's colors, charging the red of the chair and the blue of the dress with a new energy and intensity that heighten the picture's abstract qualities. Cézanne's Madame, sitting heavily in her subtly painted striped skirt, becomes Matisse's Woman, constructed out of flat planes of color and seemingly floating in space, directly on the surface of the painting.

Fernand Léger (French, 1881–1955), Woman in Blue, 1912. Oil on canvas, 76 x 51-1/8 inches. Offentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, Kunstmuseum, Basel.

As Matisse did with color, Léger in turn took Cézanne to the very limits of abstraction. As he said in 1912, 'I fought the battle to abandon Cézanne. His influence was so strong that in order to free myself I had to move all the way to abstraction. In La Femme en bleu [The Woman in Blue] . . . I felt I was breaking free from Cézanne.'[2] Even in this 'breaking free,' however, Léger retained the lessons he learned from Cézanne. His bold shapes and colors and his flattening of space recall Cézanne's portrait, as does the treatment of the subject as an inanimate object like an apple. The younger artist breaks down Cézanne's forms––the mass of the chair, the details of the skirt––and reassembles them into a study in abstraction that forever changed modern art. Both Matisse and Léger passed along Cézanne's 'legacy' through their teaching, guiding a new generation of artists to encounter Cézanne with fresh eyes.

Cézanne's influence spread to the United States thanks to a few passionate artists, collectors, and dealers who brought his images and ideas back from France. The writer Gertrude Stein and her brothers were major collectors of Cézanne's work and made the paintings they owned available to artists––many of whom were Americans traveling or living abroad––during their weekly salons in Paris. The gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz also exposed numerous young American artists to Cézanne with the first exhibition of the artist's work in the United States. Cézanne's modernism was also promulgated by a number of artists, including Max Weber and Edward Steichen, who intrigued and instructed their fellow artists with firsthand accounts and reproductions of his paintings. Marsden Hartley interacted with all of these people at the beginning of his career, learning of Cézanne first through Weber and Stieglitz in 1911. Upon Hartley's urging, Stieglitz sent the young painter black and white reproductions of Cézanne's paintings from Meier-Graefe's volume on Cézanne, and the artist began painting Cézanne-inspired still lifes right away, without any idea of his color palette. When he finally saw the older artist's paintings in person at the Havemeyer collection in New York later that year, he was struck by their intensity and vowed to visit Paris as soon as possible.

Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906), Seated Man, 1898–1900. Oil on canvas, 40-5/16 x 29-3/4 inches. Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo (The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo).

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877–1943), Young Hunter Hearing Call to Arms, ca. 1939. Oil on masonite, 41 x 30-1/4 inches. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Patrons Art Fund, 44.1.2.

 Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906), Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves, 1902–1906. Oil on canvas, 25-1/8 x 32-1/8 inches. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Miss. Purchase, Nelson Trust. 38–6.


When he was a teenager, Kelly's mother gave him the book World Famous Paintings, edited by the artist Rockwell Kent. In it, Kelly found an image of Cézanne's Chestnut Trees at the Jas de Bouffan (1885–1886), which he pulled out and pinned to his wall, giving him daily interaction with a work that would have a momentous impact on his own painting. Ever since his initial encounter with Cézanne, Kelly has explored many of the formal relationships set up in Chestnut Trees, particularly the tensions between foreground and background, surface and depth, and positive and negative space, all of which have provided an immeasurable resource for his work.

Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923), Train Landscape, 1952–1953. Oil on canvas (three joined panels), 44 x 44 inches. Collection of the artist. On loan to Art Institute of Chicago.

Another ongoing catalyst for Kelly is Cézanne's use of color to create form. Cézanne endeavored to capture his sensations of nature directly, through color, rather than constructing an illusion of reality, with the painting as a sort of window onto the world. In Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves, Cézanne divides his canvas into three bands of color, effectively flattening the deep perspective of a mountain view and bringing it right up to the picture plane, with dabs of color that sit directly on the painting's surface. As if boiling Cézanne's painting down to its essential parts, Kelly's Train Landscape consists of three monochrome horizontal panels, joined together to create an effect of space and surface similar to the Mont Sainte-Victoire. Kelly first conceived of Train Landscape while looking out a moving train's window onto an expanse of mustard growing in a field, but his process of painting is less about representing a landscape in a recognizable way, and more about being true to his perceptions of nature. Kelly's planes of single colors take Cézanne's sensation to an extreme conclusion, and in turn help us see Cézanne's painting in a new way. Through Kelly's eyes––and those of all the artists in Cézanne and Beyond–– Cézanne's work continues to reveal its complexity, richness, and, most of all, its relevancy.

[1] Max Weber, 'On Matisse's School,' lecture delivered at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1951, in Jack Flam, Matisse: A Retrospective (New York: Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc., 1988), 101.

[2] Claude Laugier, 'Biography,' in Fernand Léger, exh. cat (Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 1997), 281.

Cézanne and Beyond is on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from February 26 through May 17, 2009. An accompanying catalogue is available and was generously supported by the Davenport Family Foundation and the Lenfest Foundation. The exhibition is made possible by ADVANTA. Additional funding is provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, The Annenberg Foundation Fund for Exhibitions, The Florence Gould Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Scholarly Publications, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Promotional support provided by NBC 10 WCAU; the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau; The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com; and Amtrak.

Adrianne O. Bratis is the research assistant for the Cezanne and Beyond exhibition, in the department of European Painting before 1900 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


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