BMA to Explore Cézanne’s Influence on American Art

Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from the Bibemus Quarry

The Baltimore Museum of Art’s new exhibition, Cézanne and American Modernism, brings together 16 dazzling landscapes, still lifes, and portraits by the French master with more than 80 paintings, watercolors, and photographs by artists such as Max Weber, Alfred Stieglitz, and Marsden Hartley to show Cézanne’s profound impact on American artists at the beginning of the 20th century. Along with the BMA’s two great Cézanne paintings, Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry and Bathers, the exhibition showcases outstanding works from public and private collections throughout the U.S., including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This nationally traveling exhibition is a special ticketed event that includes complimentary audio tours for both adults and kids. Cézanne and American Modernism is co-organized by the Montclair Art Museum and The Baltimore Museum of Art and is on view in Baltimore February 14 through May 23, 2010.

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) is universally acclaimed as the father of modern art for his revolutionary use of flattened perspective, carefully structured compositions, and his signature technique of painting with patches of color. This exhibition is the first to reveal how a small group of pioneering American artists championed the reclusive French artist before he gained international prominence. Although the American painters and photographers never met Cézanne in person, his long and prolific career provided many avenues of influence for artists to explore. Some were drawn to his tranquil landscapes of the French countryside, while others appreciated his reinterpretations of classical still life and figure paintings. In Cezanne’s late works, discrete objects increasingly dissolve into brilliant patches of color, inspiring some Americans to experiment with abstraction. His skill in watercolor encouraged many American modernists to attempt the technique for the first time.

The transformative impact of Cézanne’s painting is vividly illustrated by the American artists’ adaptations of his stylistic hallmarks and subjects. Marsden Hartley was introduced to Cezanne’s work in 1911, moved to the south of France in 1925 to be closer to the native countryside of his mentor, and produced his own rugged and colorful modern landscapes. Cézanne’s powerful images of bathers in the landscape moved Man Ray to pay homage in his Cubist-inspired compositions of the same topic. The French artist’s strong and powerful portraits motivated Stanton Macdonald-Wright to produce an image of his brother in a colorful and confident style. Artists such as Patrick Henry Bruce, Andrew Dasburg, and Charles Demuth were inspired by Cézanne’s still-life compositions and variously reflect his affinity for vibrant colors, tilted table tops, multiple views, and complex structures.

Cézanne’s influence on early 20th-century American photography is examined for the first time with examples by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, and others who played a pivotal role in introducing modernism to America by experimenting with closely cropped portraits, abstraction with still-life imagery, or arcadian themes with nudes and bathers in landscape settings.

Cézanne’s remarkable impact on art in the western United States is seen in works by Willard Nash, Józef Bakoś, B.J.O Nordfeldt, and others who spent varying lengths of time in the region. These American modern artists merged the influence of Cézanne with inspiration from the Western landscape and culture. Cézanne also inspired a new generation of younger artists who discovered him for the first time during the 1920s. This includes Arshile Gorky, who created strikingly faithful imitations of Cézanne’s work while living in New York.

African-American artists William H. Johnson and Hale Woodruff both visited France at this time and embraced aspects of Cézanne’s palette and structural style early in their careers.

Discovering Cézanne in Paris

American artists first began to encounter Cézanne’s work in the early years of the 20th century. American expatriate Leo Stein can be credited with spreading knowledge about the French master’s genius to many collectors and artists as he acquired his first Cézanne painting in 1904. He shared his discovery with his sister, the writer Gertrude Stein, who joined him in the eventual purchase of at least 18 works by the artist. The Stein’s Parisian apartment was the primary gathering place for many American and European artists, as well as collectors such as Baltimore sisters Claribel and Etta Cone, who could see works by Cézanne side-by-side with paintings by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

Early admiration of Cézanne’s work also came from the pivotal Salon d’Automne memorial exhibition of 1907.

The exhibition had a profound effect on Henri Matisse, who passed along his admiration of Cézanne’s work to his American students, including Max Weber and Alfred Maurer. In the art classes that he taught from 1907 to 1911, Matisse clearly communicated his appreciation for Cézanne, whom he regarded as “the father of us all.”

Cézanne in America

In the U.S., the pioneering gallery 291, opened by photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, was the first to exhibit Cézanne’s works in a group show in 1910 and then a solo exhibition in 1911. Cézanne and American Modernism presents archival materials documenting the occasion such as a rare group of black-and white photographs of Cézanne’s paintings by Parisian photographer-gallery owner Eugène Druet. These images are being shown for the first time since they were lent by American modernist Max Weber to gallery 291 in 1910. Reprints of reviews of Cézanne’s first one-man show at 291 are displayed in the October 1911 issue of Stieglitz’s magazine Camera Work.

The landmark Armory Show of modern art in 1913 was the American public’s first real introduction to modern art, and featured 13 oil paintings, one watercolor, and two prints by Cézanne. Two paintings from the Armory Show on view in the exhibition include the first Cézanne ever purchased by an American museum, View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph, which was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Oscar Bluemner’s Hackensack River. Also on view are rare postcards and a relatively unknown but seminal booklet on the artist that was made available during the show.

Americans’ fascination with Cézanne’s work has continued to grow in appreciation through the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as museums have organized major exhibitions that reveal more about the genius of this great artist. Cézanne presciently told a young artist, “Perhaps I came to soon. I was a painter of your generation more than my own.”

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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