The Courtauld Gallery Displays Full Collection of Cézannes

By Kai Tabacek | 26 August 2008
A painting of Mount Sainte-Victoire framed by the branches of a pine tree

Montagne Sainte-Victoire (1887). Courtesy Courtauld Gallery

Exhibition review – The Courtauld Cézannes at The Courtauld Gallery until October 5 2008.

The Courtauld Institute in London has for the first time displayed its full collection of works by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). The collection includes paintings, drawings and watercolours made throughout the artist’s long career.

Cézanne has been revered as “the father of modern art” and his later works seem to prefigure the rise of cubism and abstraction. In this exhibition, paintings and drawings are displayed side by side in order to show the development of his ideas over time.

A painting of a view across a lake to a castle with mountains rising in the background

Lac d’Annecy (1896). Courtesy Courtauld Gallery

Cézanne exhibited at the first Impressionist group exhibition in 1874 but found little success in Paris, withdrawing to his family home near Aix-en-Provence. Much of his work pays tribute to his deep connection with the landscapes and local residents of this region.

For those seeking to understand Cézanne The Man, there is much for the acquisitive mind to mull over, including a collection of nine letters written to his protégé Emile Bernard. But for others the real pleasure will be in seeing his joyful treatment of the countryside around his home.

His portrayal of a sunlight dappled lake in L’Etang des Souers, Osny is thick with summer and the whirring of insects. Up close one can see the way Cézanne used a palette knife to apply bold swathes of colour, creating the luminosity of a low sun penetrating the canopy.

A painting of two men in hats and coats playing cards at a table

Card Players (1892-5). Courtesy Courtauld Gallery

Card Players depicts two workers playing cards at a table, the subdued colours and rough brushwork creating a sense of rusticity and timelessness. Cézanne claimed to “love above all else the appearance of people who have grown old without breaking old customs.”

Fresh insights into Cézanne’s techniques are provided by a new research project by the Courtauld Institute of Art Department of Conservation. Its findings suggest that Cézanne applied “graphite lines and coloured lines … throughout the painting process,” rejecting the conventional technique of working a picture up in distinct stages.

A page of Cézanne's elaborate scrawl

Letter to Emile Bernard, 23 October 1905. Courtesy Courtauld Gallery

Although Cézanne achieved modest success in his latter years, we are indebted to those who recognised his talent early on: namely Samuel Courtauld, the industrialist who collected paintings according to his taste rather than the art-historical principles of the day, but also Emile Bernard whose letters reveal Cézanne’s thinking.

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