“Cezanne Drawing” at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City brings together numerous works on paper by Paul Cezanne. The exhibition includes not only works on paper from MOMA's collection but works on loan from museums and private collections around the world.
Paul Cezanne was born in 1839 in the town of Aix-en-Provence in Southern France. (See our biography of Cezanne). His father had built a fortune in trade and banking and so Paul was brought up in comfortable bourgeois surroundings. Although his father did not encourage Paul's artistic ambitions and was at times quite critical, his wealth ensured that Paul was not dependent on his art for survival. As a result, Paul was able to devote himself to exploring art.
Although often referred to as an Impressionist, Cezanne only explored that style for a relatively short part of his career. He participated in the First and Third Impressionist group exhibitions. He was so taken aback by the harsh criticism that he received he retreated from the group, never to exhibit with them again. While he maintained some contact with Camille Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet, Cezanne embarked on developing his own personal style.
Cezanne's personality was well-suited to such a quest. Shy and socially awkward, he was accustomed to solitary pursuits. Focused and self-disciplined, he was able to adhere to a regime involving the daily practice of art work. Eventually, this led to success as he developed his own unique approach which became a milestone in the development of Modern Art.
Cezanne's work has long been exhibited at MOMA, In fact, his work was featured at MOMA's debut exhibition shortly after the stock market crash of 1929. That was at the beginning of the Great Depression and Cezanne's works resonated with the shell-shocked visitors to the exhibition. It is therefore only appropriate that Cezanne be featured as MOMA emerges from the shock of the COVID pandemic.
This exhibition explores Cezanne's works on paper although a few oil paintings are included to give reference to related drawings. Cezanne drew every day in order to develop his hand, increase his power of observation and to work out ideas. The majority of the works in the exhibition were never meant to be seen by the public and many are unfinished. Thus, this is a look behind the curtain in which visitors can see the working of the artist's mind.
Cezanne's drawing arsenal consisted primarily of pencil, watercolor and paper. Of these, pencil was his mainstay as even in his watercolors he used pencil to create the skeleton upon which the great colorist applied his paint.
The exhibition begins with a gallery full of black and white drawings, many of which are pulled from sketchbooks rather than being works done on stand-alone sheets of paper. We see that Cezanne tried various styles ranging from an almost academic approach (he tired unsuccessfully to enroll in the Academie des Beaux Arts) to his familiar almost abstract style.
As a young artist, Cezanne spent a great amount of time copying works by the Old Masters. Images derived from that study appear in his sketchbooks. Along the same lines, as a young artist, Cezanne was an admirer of Eugene Delacroix and there is a thumb-nail portrait of Delacroix in one of his books.
Over his career, Cezanne explored a variety of subjects. Although not primarily known as a portraitist, we see that Cezanne often made portrait studies including numerous self-portrait drawings. There are also studies of Madame Cezanne, his young son and people who worked on the family estate in Aix.
Subjects more often associated with Cezanne - - figures, still lifes and landscapes - - are also explored in his drawings. Cezanne often returned to ideas again and again as his thinking developed. It is interesting to see how he tired different approaches to a particular idea and how they sometimes developed all the way into a finished oil painting.
The exhibition concludes with watercolors hung in several galleries that have been amalgamated to form a large open space. While the earlier galleries were primarily of interest for the views they provided into the artist's thinking and working methods, the works here stand on their own. Yes, one can see an evolution of ideas and method here but these works are complete statements able to command a visual and emotional response from the viewer. As such, they are the highpoints of this important exhibition.
See our profiles of these Impressionists and members of their circle.
Claude Monet (Part I The Early Years)
Claude Monet (Part II High Impressionism)
Claude Monet (Part III The Giverny Years)
Pierre Auguste Renoir
Above: Cezanne and his wife did not get along well. Nonetheless, she sat for him numerous times and her face is one of the images most often associated with Cezanne's work.
Below: Another subject Cezanne explored several times was a young professional model Michelangelo di Rosa wearing a red vest. "Boy with a Red Waist Coat" is one of two watercolors done as Cezanne developed this idea.
Above: Cezanne was a master of the still life, a subject he often explored with pencil and watercolor as in "Still Life with Apples on a Sideboard."
Below: Cezanne's unique use of color planes is perhaps at its most successful in his watercolor landscapes. "Turn of the Road".
Art review - Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) - "Cezanne Drawing"