‘Father of Us All’: the Long-Reaching Brush of Cezanne

Compotier (Pitcher and Fruit)- Paul Cezanne
There are pivotal points, as in all histories, throughout the history of art.  By surveying, we look back and note events, most importantly trade winds, so to speak, that change the nature of a medium or concept at large.  The rarity of these shifts is only surpassed when said change may be attributed specifically to one artist’s oeuvre.  Critics, time, and surprisingly public opinion have shown the paintings of Paul Cezanne to be one such example.  The so-called “father of modernism,” Cezanne radically interpreted form and dimension often, amazingly, doing both with one fell brushstroke.  Deconstructing form into color planes- quite literally sometimes with a single, substantially pigment-heavy applied brush stroke- the artist laid the foundation for future movements (such as Cubism, and some philosopher-cognoscenti argue Pluralism) while maintaining ground, and consequently clout, through his formal yet expressive aesthetic.  Cezanne and American Modernism, an exhibit of the artist’s work placed within the context of work from those American painters whom he influenced is now on display at Montclair Art Museum and reviewed by Ken Johnson of the Times.  Unfortunately for us ‘Yanks’, Johnson concludes that the French spearhead outshines his American disciples noting, “few of the more than 100 paintings by Americans in the exhibition are nearly as compelling as a good Cézanne. The 18 works by him stand out like swans amid a gaggle of geese.”  Although I imagine this to be true, in my opinion what this speaks to is not the exhibit’s weakness, but instead to Cezanne’s overwhelming genius.   Regardless of Johnson’s conclusions regarding Cezanne and American Modernism’s curatorial success, I was appreciative of the theme of the exhibit, which caused me to revisit with awe and admiration Cezanne’s work, even if it was via Google images and college textbooks.  “Cézanne and American Modernism” is on view through Jan. 3 at the Montclair Art Museum, 3 South Mountain Avenue, Montclair, N.J.; (973) 746-5555, montclairartmuseum.org.

-Joel Sager



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