to see Cézanne and Beyond at the Philadelphia Museum of Art! (Pictured at left is Matisse’s Bathers — this exhibit is all about the other artists who were inspired by Cezanne.)
PAUL Cézanne was like the Marilyn Monroe of his day, much admired by other artists and the source of much inspiration.
Some painters even had Cézanne envy. Said Georges Braque: “You know, when I was a very young man I wanted nothing more than to paint like Cézanne. Fortunately, my wish was never granted for, if it had been, I would never have painted like Braque.”
You have to wonder how modern art might have evolved, had Cézanne not lived, or had he not created his innovations in painting. Would Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso have taken some of the risks they did? Would Braque and Picasso have developed Cubism? Since the Renaissance, artists had adhered to a one-point perspective, but Cézanne added multiple-point perspective that laid the groundwork for Cubism.
“I sometimes wonder just what contemporary painting would have been without the influence of Cézanne,” Fernand Leger reportedly said. “Over a very long period, I studied the works of this artist… Cézanne taught me the love of form and volumes… The power of Cézanne was such that, to find myself, I had to go to the limits of abstraction.”
Piet Mondrian, who helped to bring Cézanne’s work to the Netherlands, said he learned from Cézanne “… that beauty in art is created not by the objects of representation, but by the relationships of line and color.”
In the exhibit Cézanne & Beyond, on view through May 17, the Philadelphia Museum of Art explores the relationships of these and other artists to the man Matisse and Picasso referred to as the father of us all. It also looks at the influence Cézanne had on more contemporary artists, and how looking at these newer works brings further insight to the work of Cézanne.
“Approach nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone,” Cézanne was to have said in pre-Cubism times. Influenced by these words, Jasper Johns included circles, triangles and squares at the top of his 1980s series “Seasons,” inspired by Cézanne’s “Bather with Outstretched Arms.”
Henri Matisse owned Cézanne’s “Three Bathers” for almost 40 years. This seminal work depicts three women, one with a towel, at a stream. Another woman is submerged to her thighs, and a third woman is holding her hair, as if drying it or perhaps separating it to braid.
When Matisse donated the painting to the Petit Palais he wrote, “In the 37 years I have owned this canvas, I have come to know it quite well, though not entirely, I hope; it has sustained me morally in the critical moments of my venture as an artist; I have drawn from it my faith and my perseverance… (it) has grown increasingly greater ever since I have owned it.” Indeed, Matisse’s “Le Luxe I,” of three women cavorting alongside a stream, plays with Cézanne’s theme.
Brice Marden, whose paintings of colorful lines and blocks are included in this exhibit, considered Cézanne “the greatest realist and the greatest abstractionist at the same time.”
In 1996, PMA held a major Cézanne retrospective. Contemporary artists came to see it, to get inspiration, and to draw from the works. Now, 13 years later, PMA is exhibiting those Cézanne-inspired works, alongside the original Cézannes. There are 50 works by Cézanne accompanied by 100 paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture by 18 artists who followed Cézanne.
“Cézanne is in these artists’ DNA,” says curator Michael Taylor.
Mr. Marden came to the 1996 exhibit and spent time looking at “The Bathers” because he couldn’t figure it out, according to curators. He began a series created on “The Bathers” from a postcard from the National Gallery.
“So many artists came in 1996 and learned so much, and we hope they will come now,” said Curator Katherine Sachs.
Walking through the exhibit the first time, you may be drawn to the more contemporary artists. Then, reversing your steps, the work of Cézanne seems to take on new resonance, as you see what these other artists saw.
For fans of Cézanne, there are two places to travel: Aix-en-Provence, his birthplace in France, or Philadelphia, where the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation have more Cézannes than all of Paris.
One of the first paintings in the exhibit is Cézanne’s “Card Players,” based on workers on his father’s plantation at the end of their day. Nearby, contemporary artist Jeff Wall has created a transparency in lightbox, “Card Players.” Here we see, larger than life, three elderly women playing cards at a table with their blue and white tea cups and crumpets. The light box gives it the flow of a movie screen, appropriate to his method of staging the situations he photographs. The ladies are surrounded by granny keepsakes, such as cloth flowers, china and framed pictures.
A lifelong admirer of Cézanne, Mr. Wall likens his process of piecing together photographic images on a computer screen to painting.
“Cézanne discovered it’s impossible to try to copy nature, but one must try all the same to translate one’s sensations,” says Curator Joseph Rishel.
“Cézanne believed that what an artist says has to be said in his own way,” says Mr. Taylor.
“Why does Cézanne survive, like Shakespeare, generation after generation,” asks Mr. Rishel. “He is a complicated artist with many points of entry. His art is reassuring and settling.”
- Cézanne & Beyond is on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street, Philadelphia, through May 30. Admission costs $14, $12 seniors, $10 students. Museum hours: Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (215) 684-7860. For additional programming, lectures, tours and a concert, see www.philamuseum.org