Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

In his portraits, landscapes, and still-life paintings, the French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne used small brushstrokes to create planes of color that simplified nature to its essential forms. His work influenced countless younger artists, most notably Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, who built upon his method of geometric simplification in their experiments with Cubism beginning in 1909. But before his death in 1906, Cézanne received little critical attention, and it was not until a retrospective display of his work was mounted in 1907 in Paris at the Salon d’Automne that his reputation as a leading Post-Impressionist was established in Europe. As the American collector Leo Stein later noted, “At the Autumn Salon of 1905 people laughed themselves into hysterics before his pictures, in 1906 they were respectful, and in 1907 they were reverent. Cézanne had become the man of the moment.” [1]

In the United States, Cézanne remained virtually unknown until 1913. [2] But the Armory Show co-organizers Arthur B. Davies and Walter Pach had both studied his work in detail, and determined to showcase him in the exhibition. [3] Borrowing from European and American dealers and collectors, they assembled an impressive group of thirteen oil paintings, one watercolor, and two color lithographs that demonstrated the range of the artist’s production. [4] The Association of American Painters and Sculptors also published a seventy-six-page pamphlet on the artist in conjunction with the exhibition. [5] Overall the public’s response was positive and subdued. This is surprising considering Cézanne’s role in the emergence of Cubism, which the public and press so furiously attacked during the exhibition. In fact, a number of the American critics praised Cézanne as a leading innovator, contributing to his canonization as the great father of modern art. [6]

[1] Leo Stein, Appreciation: Painting, Poetry, and Prose (New York: Crown, 1947), 174.

[2] Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen mounted the first public exhibition of his work in the United States in March 1911 at 291 gallery in New York. The exhibition included twenty watercolors by Cézanne, the majority of which were landscapes. All of the works were lent by the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, Paris. The show was roundly condemned, and even the organizers admitted that it did not showcase the artist’s best work.  For an in-depth discussion of the exhibition, see John Rewald, Cézanne and America: Dealers, Collectors, Artists and Critics, 1891-1921 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 129-51.

[3] Inspired by the 1907 display in Paris, the American painter Walter Pach published an article on Cézanne in Scribner’s Magazine in 1908 that captured the attention of Arthur B. Davies, and the two bonded over their admiration for the French painter. In the coming years, Davies would study Cézanne’s work in the collection of Henry and Louisine Havemeyer, which by 1907 included twenty-five of Cézanne’s paintings. For the article, see Walter Pach, “Cézanne – An Introduction,” Scribner’s Magazine 44 (December 1908): 765-68. For Davies’s response to Pach’s article and Cézanne’s work, see Rewald, 122, 126.

[4] Originally the organizers planned to devote an entire room to the artist’s work.  However, when the Armory Show opened in New York on February 17, 1913, Cézanne’s works were displayed in Gallery Q alongside the paintings of fellow Post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh.

[5] Elie Faure, Cézanne (New York: Association of American Painters and Sculptors, 1913), 41. Originally written by the French critic Elie Faure, the text was translated into English by Pach.

[6] Gail Stavitsky, Cézanne and American Modernism (Montclair, NJ: Montclair Art Museum, 2009), 33.

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