by Shannon Vittoria, Research Assistant
On March 16, 1913, The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased Paul Cézanne’s View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph from the Armory Show for $6,700. This was the highest price paid for any work in the exhibition and it was the only one of Cézanne’s thirteen oil paintings to sell from the show. The purchase marked a major landmark in American collecting, as it was the first Cézanne painting acquired by an American museum.
Bryson Burroughs, the museum’s Curator of Paintings, was the driving force behind the acquisition: on February 20, 1913, Burroughs drafted a letter to John White Alexander of the museum’s purchasing committee listing several of the works in the Armory Show that he believed were “worthy of a place in the Museum.” This included Cézanne’s View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph, Paul Gauguin’s Faa iheihe, and Odilon Redon’s Le Silence. However, before sending the letter, Burroughs revised his list, removing all but Cézanne’s painting. The curator may have decided that his initial “wish list” was too ambitious, instead focusing on Cézanne – an artist whose work he had been attempting to acquire for the museum since 1908.
After much deliberation among the trustees, many of whom greatly disliked the innovative and unfamiliar work of Cézanne, an agreement was made to purchase the painting. Shortly thereafter, Burroughs wrote a celebratory note to Armory Show organizer Walter Pach: “I like the picture better and better and have not yet finished congratulating myself.”
When the museum unveiled View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph to the public, art critic Henry McBride was perplexed by the trustees’ hesitation to purchase a painting that he found to be “sweet” and “innocuous.” Despite McBride’s progressive viewpoint, in 1913 Cézanne remained a polarizing figure, as American audiences were only recently introduced to his paintings at the Armory Show. The museum’s purchase thus signified a bold step in establishing Cézanne’s reputation as a great modern master in America.