Paul Cézanne’s “Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair” (MFA, Boston)

For many modern artists Paul Cézanne was a talismanic figure, the shadow of his painting as impossible to escape as his achievement was to define. Throughout the 20th century, as scholars labored to construct a viable history of modern art, Cézanne (along with Manet, Courbet and a handful of transgressive others) was posited as its fountainhead, the protean begetter whose countless artistic progeny shaped a new aesthetic that placed vision and touch above traditional formal and narrative concerns.

Both Matisse and Picasso would claim Cézanne as a father, and almost every variant of 20th-century art could trace some aspect of its origins to his painting. Cézanne’s effect on later artists has become the stuff of exquisite exhibitions, heated debate, and a linear notion of modernism. Without thoroughly disrupting that tidy critical trajectory, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s current exhibition, “Cézanne and Beyond,” moves it onto more fluid and fertile ground, and the results are highly satisfying and visually thrilling.

Even in his own day Cézanne was, perhaps above all else, a painter’s painter, receiving his first, most unfailing and most perceptive expressions of support from fellow artists. And artists again lead us through this revelatory exhibition, one whose thematic, rather than chronological, display allows a richer reading of both Cézanne’s art and their own.


Mary Tompkins Lewis
Wall Street Journal