Sunday, June 03, 2012

Review of Cezanne Show

セザンヌパリとプロヴァンスCézanne. Paris-Provence at The National Art Center, Tokyo, 3/28-6/11/2012

Overview: lots of works, organized by category; early works, landscapes, the body, portraits, still lifes, later works. 

Highlights: some of the actual objects Cézanne used as subjects in still lifes, a set-up of his studio with the real furniture, and some of his palettes, including one labeled as his last used, with dried paint left on it. 

Highlights of the gift shop (can't have an exhibit without swag「グッズ」in Japan: several flavors of Cézanne fruit jams, and Cézanne hair scrunchies. What made them "Cézanne" I couldn't tell you, but the colors were definitely not Van Gogh. 

As for the exhibit itself, it was large and had a fairly good variety of expected works, plus some unusual ones, like the very early pieces. These included some murals which had been lifted off the walls and put on canvas- not sure how they did that! Many of these early paintings were rather like student work, with typical mistakes in proportion and technique; which surprised me, although I guess it shouldn't. I love Cézanne and of course have seen a lot of his work in person before. I don't recall having seen so much at once, though. And midway through the show I started to realize that he relies on the same stylistic tendencies again and again. His palette seems to have stayed remarkably similar throughout his career, especially the use of the complements blue and orange. He often uses a sort of vignette composition, with tree branches or architectural forms to round off the canvas's corners, or a central "spotlight" of brighter colors and more detail, all of which serve to draw the viewer's gaze to the middle of the painting. He also often employs a broken outline of Prussian blue (occasionally brown) which would be cartoonish if it weren't so subtly and masterfully done. So, do I dare call Cézanne formulaic!? We look at his influence on art history and this seems impossible, even heretical. He was a great innovator, indeed, but he also knew what worked and wasn't trying to push boundaries all the time; rather perhaps this is a modern misconception based on his legacy.
Anyway, in the entire show, one of the littlest works had the biggest impact for me. It was a portrait of Victor Chocquet (right). Look at the image and imagine what the actual size is, and I bet you'll overestimate. Yet despite its diminution, it had the feel of a monumental work, commanding more attention than the larger piece next to it. If was as if Cézanne had managed to put a huge painting onto a tiny surface. He didn't do it by eliminating objects or choosing a simpler composition, or changing the amount of detail, or by closing in on his subject. It really was like a shrunk-down giant painting. Seeing this was inspiring, since I continue to struggle with painting small.

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