Cezanne and American Modernism
Cézanne’s greatness lies more in an intensely individual way of seeing nature than as an expresser of abstract artistic concepts. In other terms, he falls in with the class headed by such men as Giotto and Rembrandt, who merged their aesthetic qualities inextricably with their particular viewing of the world…Cézanne, interested in character, in form, and in color, from which he drew such a rare beauty, concerned himself little with realistic finish which the public of his time demanded, nor with the finesse and subtlety of line-drawing and the care as to accurate natural proportion which they had learned from Ingres to expect. But it is the fortunate, or rather the great artist, who knows how to choose what is important and hold to it even when he must give up the less important.
—Walter Pach, “Cézanne—An Introduction,” Scribner’s, December 1908
It is widely known that Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) deeply influenced Cubism and the direction of 20th-Century art. However, relatively little comprehensive research has considered the specific impacts of Cézanne on the work of key American artists. The Montclair Art Museum, in collaboration with The Baltimore Museum of Art, will present the first exhibition to examine Cézanne’s profound influence upon the development of American modernism in this country and abroad. Cézanne and American Modernism will begin with an intimate display of between 10-15 key paintings and works on paper by Cézanne. This gallery will recreate, in part, important exhibitions in which his work was introduced to American artists - at Alfred Stieglitz's renowned gallery 291 in 1910 and 1911, the Armory Show of 1913, the Montross Gallery in 1916, and at museums, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1920, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1921, and the Museum of Modern Art in 1929. Each piece, including works owned by Leo and Gertrude Stein, will be selected for its relevance to the American artists whose work was changed by exposure to Cézanne's innovative approach to painting. This presentation will include copies of related books, portfolios, and exhibition catalogues of this era, materials that were in many cases owned by and certainly influenced American artists.
With this orientation in place, the rest of the show will focus upon 75-80 paintings, works on paper and photographs by a diverse group of leading American Modernists—among them Max Weber, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, Morgan Russell, Man Ray and Arshile Gorky—to show how Americans from across the United States responded to Cézanne's themes, process, and style. The primary emphasis will be on the work of American artists, selected works by Cézanne will be included in this section to illustrate his impact on their work. These comparisons will help to establish stylistic and thematic influences, especially in terms of the subject matter categories of still lifes, landscapes, portraits, and bathers. The overall exhibition will serve to recreate the path of influence that the artists themselves experienced. We seek to avoid simplistic comparisons and resemblances between Cézanne and the American artists to convey deeper meanings of their engagement with Cézanne as, in Hartley's words, "the gateway for our modern esthetic development, the prophet of the new time."
Maurice Prendergast's pioneering discovery of Cézanne's work in 1907 at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune exhibition of the artist's watercolors coincided with the experiences of artists Max Weber, Morgan Russell, and others, who saw the French master's work in Paris at the home of Americans Gertrude and Leo Stein. Cézanne, who died in 1906, gradually became better known in New York as well. Cézanne's work sparked an animated critical response, notably from the American painter-critic Walter Pach, who as early as 1908 wrote the first informed appreciation of Cézanne to appear in the United States. Cézanne and American Modernism will conclude with Arshile Gorky's works of the late 1920s, by which time Cézanne had been canonized in the inaugural show of The Museum of Modern Art, Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, van Gogh (1929).
This exhibition was made possible by Bank of America.
Additional funding was provided by The Leir Charitable Foundations, the Terra Foundation for American Art, The Henry Luce Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Thaw Charitable Trust, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, and the Dedalus Foundation, Inc. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Additional support was provided by Exhibition Angels Carol and Terry Wall, The Bershad Foundation, Inc., Rose and John Cali, Bob and Bobbie Constable, Patti and Jimmy Elliott, Jacqueline and Herb Klein, Jacqueline McMullen, Lyn and Glenn Reiter, Newton B. Schott, Jr., and Toni LeQuire-Schott, Adrian A. Shelby, Margo and Frank Walter, and Joan and Donald Zief as well as by Angela and Michael Frasco, Lynn and Stephen Glasser, Karen and Larry Mandelbaum, Katherine and Frank Martucci, Donna M. Uher, and Marica and Jan Vilcek. Marketing assistance has been provided by Ed Moed of Peppercom in New York City. Travel support for the national tour has been provided by Continental Airlines.
All Museum programs are made possible, in part, by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, and by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vance Wall Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Museum Members.