Cezanne and Beyond: Ahhh Balm for the Soul

I spent two or three hours this week end with one of my favorite people, Paul Cezanne. When I first began to study Art (at least in any organized way as a student at UNC) one of the artists that struck me as being a little weirder, a little further out was Paul Cezanne. At first blush his painting seemed like crude impressionist paintings. I looked at his Card Players and several of his paintings of Mt. St. Victoire and thought this guy can’t paint a lick. And then I discovered, quite by accident, one of his still lives with apples and oranges and pears, arranged with the usual complement of drapery, table, wall paper backdrop and thought that looks like a normal painting but that plate of apples can’t just hang in the air like that. The line of the table disappears under the drapery to emerge somewhere else and to prove it I laid a straight edge along the table and Voila!, I was into the puzzle that is Paul Cezanne. After the invention of the photograph made painting reality more or less redundant, there was an explosion of experimentation. Cezanne was a giant among those painters loosely categorized as Post Impressionists. His paintings have been closely studied by students of art and the major artists who followed him. His influence is encapsulated in the following quote variously attributed to Matisse and Picasso: “Cezanne is the father of us all.”

As a graduate student in a television production course at UCLA we were charged to produce a thirty minute television show. Mine was called An Apple, An Orange and a Pear. The subject was Paul Cezanne’s influence on artists who followed. Most of the other shows were attempts at commercial sitcoms. Needless to say, neither my classmates nor my instructor seemed to “get it.” They praised the slickness of the production but thought the content left something to be desired—they just didn’t see how you could make a sitcom out of art. Under my breath, I muttered, the assignment was to produce a television program. It was one of the “Aha moments” that sent me packing from Hollywood.

There is no question of Cezanne’s enormous influence, and the exhibition contains works by Picasso, Matisse, Beckman and Leger, among others, that are homages, or direct lifts from his paintings or both. His paintings are, not to put too fine a point on it, eye candy wrapped in a puzzle, enfolded in a conundrum. That is to say they are not easy. You have to work at them, and I have discovered that I can rediscover almost all of his paintings with each new viewing. I visited a fairly substantial Cezanne exhibition a couple of years ago in New York which contained several of the paintings in this show. Seeing them was like greeting an old friend and catching up. What’s new? Well a lot if you observe carefully.

I have seen similar exhibitions where one painter’s influence is explored on those who followed (an exhibition in Paris several years ago of Picasso and Ingres comes to mind) but this one is particularly satisfying. First there is the power of Cezanne’s work and then, of course, there is the power of those who found his explorations and riffs irresistible.

This exhibition runs through May 31 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art which is close enough to drive although it makes for a really long day. Fair warning! It is pricey but then most museums are these days. Tickets for two, plus parking in the Museum garage, ran sixty bucks or so—the parking was ten. But if you really like painting, especially the period when perspective painting got knocked into a cocked hat, then this one is not to miss.

Go here for details:
http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/312.html

Don Singleton

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