We just saw the Madame Cézanne exhibit at the Met this afternoon. I am going to write very little about it except for the following:
1) It is incredibly wonderful, and you definitely should go. (It is at the Metropolitan Museum until 15 March 2015.)
2) It is one of those stupidly curated exhibitions that museums around the world are doing these days that are about something quite other than the art they contain. This one attempts to focus on the implicit issues in Cézanne’s relationship with Hortense Fiquet, the woman who became his wife and the mother of his son—and who was his most frequently painted model. I suppose there are those who will find the speculation about that relationship more interesting than the amazing paintings of her; the reviewer from the NY Times certainly did. But we found it infuriating to have these painting grouped by what dress M. Cézanne was wearing, or what mood was being expressed in her face than what the progression was in Cézanne’s work.
These are amazing paintings—some of them, like the Met’s own Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress, ca. 1888-90, truly sublime. Many of these paintings are from private collections or museums one does not usually get to visit; so it is a fabulous experience, despite the curatorial inanity. (There are also some truly beautiful water colors and drawings, and I present a few examples at the end of this piece.)
Since photography was permitted, I am going to present below my photographs of all of the paintings in the Madame Cézanne exhibit…but I am going to present them in chronological order, instead of the bizarre way they are grouped in the show. I do this in part because Nancy and I were aching to look at them this way, and it gives us the opportunity to do so—and in part just because I think this is the way it ought to have been. I hope you enjoy them in this form; but I do suggest you see the exhibit, too, as these are works that should be seen as they really are, not in pale facsimile copies. (And, in fact, I must particularly apologize for the fact that some of them—basically the ones that were behind glass—are a bit distorted by the fact that I had to take them on an angle to avoid the reflected glare.) These are magnificent works of art from perhaps my favorite painter of all time.
Here, then, for your viewing pleasure (with only a few brief comments here and there).
This earliest of the works in the series (below) already has many of the elements that were to become defining factors in Cézanne’s modernity—and that made him an inspiration to virtually every great modern painter that was to follow: he is already raising the plane of the table top, raising it up toward the surface of the painting; his brushstrokes create a powerful pattern on the surface of the canvas, and one begins to feel the geometry that his eye found in nature as well as in the built environment. At the same time he maintains the painterly qualities that give richness and depth to his work:
Madame Cézanne Leaning on a Table. ca. 1873-4. Oil on canvas. Private collection, courtesy of Faggionato, London.
This beautiful little painting was entrancing, and the only one of the portraits with a somewhat erotic flavor to it:
Young Woman with Loosened Hair. ca. 1873-4. Oil on canvas. Private collection, via loan to Staatliche Museen in Berlin.
Here the patterns of the wallpaper and the fabric of the chair all emphasize pictorial surface. But the colors and rhythms prefigure the fauvism to come of Matisse, who—like Picasso—was to claim that Cézanne was “the father of us all”:
Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair. ca. 1877. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Madame Cézanne Sewing. ca. 18877. Oil on canvas. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
Nancy and I found this one particularly nice:
Portrait of Madame Cézanne. ca. 1877. Oil on canvas. Private collection.
Madame Cézanne in the Garden. ca. 1880. Oil on canvas. Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris.
Sketch of a Portrait of Madame Cézanne. ca. 1883. Oil on canvas. Collection of Richard and Mary L. Gray.
Portrait of Madame Cézanne in a Striped Dress. ca. 1883-5. Oil on canvas. Yokohama Museum of Art.
The colors and textures of the cheeks are reminiscent of the painterly way Cézanne did fruit in his still lifes (imagine one of his pears); and in the subtle brush work and the palette of the background one can almost imagine one is see one of Cézanne’s landscapes. The abstractly evoked patterns of her dress are also particularly satisfying. We both found this to be an especially wonderful painting—and one we had never seen:
Portrait of Madame Cézanne. ca. 1885. Oil on canvas. Private collection, on loan to Staatliche Museen in Berlin.
Portrait of Madame Cézanne. ca. 1885-7. Oil on canvas. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Madame Cézanne. 1885-7. Oil on canvas. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY.
This great painting which we know from the Musée d’Orsay, places the softly suggested face in the corner of two walls of wonderfully contrasting color and texture—into which one can gaze in abstract beauty or imagine the evoked reality of wall pattern, particularly as strengthened in the shadowing to the left of the face:
Portrait of Madame Cézanne. ca. 1885-8. Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Portrait of Madame Cézanne. ca. 1886-7. Oil on canvas. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Madame Cézanne. ca. 1886-88. Oil on canvas. Detroit Institute of Art.
Madame Cézanne in Blue. ca. 1888-90. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Art, Houston.
The Met’s own fabulous Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress—one of our “old friends” at the Met, and one of the great paintings of all time—was, naturally a star in this exhibition. It combines so many wonderful elements of what makes Cézanne the master he was: the sculptural pictorial depth of the folds of the drapery on the right; the bringing M. Cézanne’s body flat up to the surface of the painting (as in so many of these portraits, it is almost as if her body were not bent at all, albeit that she is sitting I a chair) and the modernity of the surface pattern of so many of the elements (including the back of her yellow chair); his purposefully tilting the vertical axis of her body off center to the right, and the disorientingly sharp diagonal thrust of the wainscoting; the painterly way he dealt the objects themselves; the delicacy of her hands holding the rose; and the wonderful palette of the wall, so evocative of that of his landscape paintings. What a masterpiece:
Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress. ca. 1888-90. Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
I wonder, despite how clearly it fits into this series of portraits of his wife, how many of you will find this painting reminiscent of a Spanish monk?
Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress. ca. 1888-90. Oil on canvas. Museu de Arte de São Paulo.
Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Chair. ca. 1888-90. Oil on canvas. Art institute of Chicago.
This painting from the series (one of the few sequences that belonged together in the exhibit) was another we had not known and which we liked greatly:
Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Chair. ca. 1888-90. Oil on canvas. Foundation Beyeler, basel.
In this painting the background is one that I could gaze into for hours:
Portrait of Madame Cézanne. ca. 1890. Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Portrait of Madame Cézanne. ca. 1890-2. Oil on canvas. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The one below, the latest of the works, is particularly fabulous: the diagonal of the tree, directly matching the diagonal of the element of the chair and reflecting the general leftward lean of her body, the counter diagonal thrust of the wall behind her, all set against the strong, lush vertical of the flowering plant at the right; the Japanese-like evocation of the potted plant atop the wall; the incredible brushwork of the dress, which becomes sketchier and sketchier as your eye moves downward; and those wonderfully suggestive hands—what a painting to end with!
Portrait of Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory. ca. 1891. Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
And a few of the many wonderful drawings and watercolors:
Madame Cézanne, Study of a Tree. ca. 1897-1900. Graphite and watercolor on wove paper. Collection of Georges Pébereau.
Seated Woman (Madame Cézanne). ca. 1902-4. Graphite and watercolor on wove paper. Collection of Judy and Michael Steinhardt
In the Oise Valley. ca. 1870-80. Graphite, gouache, and watercolor on paper. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
Still Life with a Watermelon and Pomegranates. ca. 1900-06. Watercolor over graphite on paper. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.