Saturday 13 September 2008

A Cezanne

Sorry, this blog seems to be turning into an art gallery - but don't worry, it won't last. It's just that yesterday I went to see the Courtauld Cezannes, and I couldn't let that pass. One of the critics has described this exhibition as 'a condensed miracle of masterpieces' - and that is just what it is. All the Cezannes the Courtauld owns - the best collection in England - in one room, with some rarely seen drawings and watercolours, and a few letters, in Cezanne's dashing hand, thrown in. The letters include thoughts on art, and on old age, which the artist faces defiantly, determining to paint to the last. The captioning of the pictures is brief and to the point, usefully illuminating Cezanne's technique; the hang is pretty well perfect; the crowds are well below blockbuster levels; and there is time and peace to look properly at everything on show. With barely more than 20 pictures on display, this exhibition is, it seems to me, on precisely the scale at which proper attention is possible (as so few exhibitions, in these days of the corporate-sponsored blockbuster, are). For a concentrated aesthetic hit - a blast of pure painterly joy - there's nothing in London at present to match the Courtauld Cezannes.


  1. Cezanne is wonderful in small doses. I worked at the Barnes Foundation for awhile and the place is awash in Cezanne (also Renoir). One grows tired of fruit in bowls and squarish grey landscapes and bathers that look like Michelin men.

    Sorry, but it had to be said by one of us philistines.

  2. That Cezanne you have posted is indeed lovely, Nige, but I tend to agree with Susan. I grew up seeing Cezanne at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which had a large exhibition of his work a few years ago. I think he is at his best when most spontaneous - there was a miraculous watercolor of geraniums on a wall in that exhibition. But he is not often so spontaneous. Large Bathers, which is at the PMA, has always struck me as one of the worst famous paintings around. The composition seems wrong. On the other hand, I just saw a few other Courtauld Cezannes and they do seem to have outstanding examples of his work.

  3. Nige, you're becoming distinctly Brian Sewellish. When can we expect you, in your 20 year old S Klasse coupe, to visit the Sage rubbish bin and comment on the total lack of artistic awareness of the Geordie nation ?
    Today Carshalton, tomorrow Kensington Gardens.

  4. Cezanne was indeed useless with the human form (though some. e.g. Kitaj, argue for The Bathers being incomparably great). Turner was equally useless, but he and Cezanne are both very great artists for all that. But enough of art for now...