By Anita Davidson
When Paul Cezanne saw Manet's
Olympia, he is reported to have remarked, "That would please me well
enough: to pose nudes on the Arc's
banks! Only understand, women are
cows, calculating, and they'd put the
grappin (grappling hook) into me."
The painter who translated the
traditional into the modern, imprinting
his unique vision upon the course of 20th
century painting, suffered crippling anxiety when confronted with a nude woman,
and never overcame the fears and inhibitions that prevented him from realizing
his lifelong dream of painting out-of-
doors from nude models. Although at the
age of 56, he did finally paint from a
nude model in his studio, most of his
bathers are taken from prints and photographs; a situation that conflicted with
his sincere espousal of the importance of
painting from nature: "The truth is in nature, and I shall prove it."
Cezanne was a man torn by conflicts. His almost total inability to relate
to women had as its obverse side an extremely close emotional bond with his
mother and his sister Marie. His mother
appears to have recognized and cherished elements in her son which she felt
to have been callously thwarted in herself; and his strong sympathy for his
mother brought about an identification
with her subservient situation, contributing mightily to both his antagonism a-
gainst his father and his omnipresent
Cezanne's father, Louis-Auguste, on
the other hand, must have hidden a great
deal of forbearance for his son under his
authoritative manner, for although making money was his sole interest and criterion of worth, until his death he supported
Cezanne with an allowance with no hope
of a cash return.
Further conflict resulted from
Cezanne's relationship with the only
woman (apart from his mother and sister)
who ever penetrated his isolation. The
bubbling vivacity of Hortense, who gamely took on the roles of model, mistress,
mother of their child, and wife, is never
revealed in the many portraits of her
which Cezanne painted. Rather, she stares
mirthlessly, a solemn, stolid presence.
After Hortense gave birth to their
son, they lived apart in an effort by
Cezanne to conceal from Louis-Auguste
the existence of both Hortense and the
child. He feared the loss of his allowance.
They did eventually marry, but the marriage was principally for the protection of
the legal rights of the boy whom Cezanne
adored, and Cezanne and Hortense continued to live apart, apparently losing all
feeling for one another. Cezanne became
more and more the recluse; strange, solitary, obsessed, vehement.
Cezanne's conflicting attitudes toward women were reflected in his attitude toward his art: devotion and rejection, hope and doubt, optimism and despair. Never truly satisfied with his work,
he pursued relentlessly an elusive harmony ; not a lyrical praise of nature, but a
harmony of all the elements, balancing
permanence with impermanence, the
stable structure with the tensions of
change. In the last decade of his life, his
incessant return again and again to the
same subjects transformed his search for
nature's truths into explorations of light
and color never before attempted.
It is the work of these final years
that has been gathered from all over the
world into the grandest and most comprehensive exhibition of paintings we are
ever likely to see. Cezanne: The Late
Work, contains 59 oil paintings, 44 water-
colors, and six lithographs focusing on his
recurrent themes in portraiture, still lifes,
landscapes, skulls and bathers. If one
word could describe this exhibit, it would
be "searching." There is no one "style,"
but a wide range of stylistic innovations
from the deep, somber tones of the three
Vallier portraits, to an Oriental delicacy
in the watercolor Foliage and certain
views of Mont Ste-Victoire in both water-
color and in oils inspired by the water-
The exhibit has been organized by
William Rubin, director of painting and
sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art
in New York, in association with Prof.
John Rewald of the City University of
New York Graduate Center and Prof.
Theodore Reff of Columbia University. It
has been produced in collaboration with
the Reunion des Musees Nationaux,
Paris, and facilitated by an agreement
signed by the French government and the
Museum of Modern Art providing for the
exchange of art loans. The exhibition is
supported by major grants from IBM
Corporation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Museum of Fine Arts is one of
only three art institutions-two in the
United States and one in Europe—to host
this landmark exhibition. It opened first
at the Museum of Modern Art in New
York, where it surpassed previous attendance records, and following its Houston
stay, it will be shown at the Grand Palais
Supplementing the exhibit is an
orientation gallery which includes a slide
program. Scheduled with the exhibit are a
40 minute film, Paul Cezanne, from Sir
Kenneth Clark's Pioneers of Modern
Painting series, a four-part class on
"Cezanne and His Times" presented by
David Brauer, visiting lecturer at The
School of Art: Museum of Fine Arts,
Houston, and a major symposium and
series of lectures discussing Cezanne and
All events are open to the public
free of charge. The exhibition opened
Jan. 26 and will be on view through
Three Bathers, c. 1878. This is an early attempt to solve Cezanne's composition problem of nudes in a landscape.
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