Under Cézanne’s Spell


an exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris, September 25, 1995
January 7, 1996; Tate Gallery, London, February 8
April 28, 1996; Philadelphia Museum of Art, May 30
August 18, 1996, Catalog of the exhibition by Françoise Cachin and Joseph J. R
Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 599 pp., 350 FF

Cézanne: A Biography

by John Rewald
Abrams, 288 pp., $75.00

Paul Cézanne: The Bathers

by Mary Louise Krumrine
Thames and Hudson, 321 pp., $65.00

Lost Earth: A Life of Cézanne

by Philip Callow
Ivan R. Dee, 395 pp., $30.00


by Richard Verdi
Thames and Hudson, 216 pp., $12.95 (paper)


by Philippe Dagen
Flammarion, 174 pp., 98 FF

Le Paradis de Cézanne

by Philippe Sollers
Gallimard, 151 pp., 250 FF


Paul Cézanne, born in 1839, was the only artist of his age to span several generations in order to become, so to speak, an honorary twentieth-century painter. The Fauve painters, who launched the first visual movement of the century, were inspired by Cézanne and came increasingly under his spell. The Cubists to a man recognized Cézanne as their mentor; each one of them looked at him in a slightly different way, and, to a large extent, it was through pooling their conclusions that they succeeded in launching their supremely revolutionary movement. Mondrian had studied Cézanne before he turned his attention to Cubism, and it is interesting, if futile, to speculate whether he could have found his way into total abstraction through Cézanne alone. The German Expressionists of both the Brücke and the Blaue Reiter groups revered Cézanne but were never quite sure how best to make use of him.

The Italian Futurists tended to avoid him; they were in a hurry and Cézanne is an artist who can’t be rushed. Their Russian counterparts, however, saw the point of Cézanne although they soon came to look at him through Cubist eyes. The Suprematists and Constructivists alike acknowledged that it was Cézanne who had got their show on the road. It is hard to say which of his artistic progeny Cézanne would have disliked least: Matisse, perhaps. In the early years of the century Cézanne was already recognized as a multifaceted artist but was viewed most generally as a somewhat naive one, the “primitive” (a word he used about himself) of new sensibility. But in the 1920s, the “rappel à l’ordre“—the turn away from experiment called for by Cocteau—Cézanne emerges as a classicist and as the true heir to Poussin. The Surrealists, feeling that Cézanne couldn’t be completely excluded from their scheme of things, seized on the vein of blackness in his early work, on its disturbing violence and wild eroticism.

During Cézanne’s lifetime—he died in 1906—there was a sharp divide over his critical reception, which came with the great exhibition held by the dealer Vollard in 1895. Until then Cézanne had received relatively little critical attention, most of it invective. He had shown three paintings at the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874 and then seventeen works at the third, in 1877; but, apart from this, before the Vollard show he had had virtually no exposure and was sometimes attacked, as it were, “in absentia.” In the first of his pamphlets accompanying the 1877 exhibition the critic Georges Rivière wrote: “The artist who has been the most attacked, the most mistreated by the press and the public for the past fifteen years, is M. Cézanne.” Rivière went on to stake out for himself a small claim to immortality when he declared:

M. Cézanne is, in his works, a Greek of the great period; his canvases have the calm and heroic serenity of the paintings and terra-cottas of antiquity, and the ignorant who laugh at the Bathers, for example, impress…

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