“With an apple, I will astonish Paris,” Paul Cezanne once claimed.
For the past five months, and until 12 March, an exhibition at London’s Tate Modern art gallery has been showcasing selected works by the French painter. The exhibition, organised in cooperation with the Art Institute of Chicago, is not the first to celebrate the artist’s experience.
So, why hasn’t the world quenched its thirst for Cezanne, who died in 1906, even when most of his works are already showcased in museums around the world, including the Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery in London, and the Museum of Modern Arts in New York?
Praised by Monet
No other painter thought of his immortality like Cezanne did. He may not have lived long enough to bask in the glory of his posthumous title of “father of modern art,” but he did witness his friend Claude Monet claim that Cezanne is “the greatest of us all” during his lifetime. Yet even such a recognition from one of the greatest Impressionists would prove insufficient for the painter.
When he left his native Aix-en-Provence and headed for Paris in his twenties, Cezanne had two goals in mind: breaking the conventional rules of painting established five centuries before and getting his works hung on the walls of the Louvre.
His wishes would come true a few years after his death, even though he had managed to make a reputation for himself among the artists of Paris in the last few years of his life.
During that time, Cezanne became synonymous with modern art. His name was associated with that concept and the disrupting, revolutionary changes that ensued, not least of which was cubism, which George Braque and Pablo Picasso would go on to invent.
Cezanne was not a cubist, but his geometric paintings — a stark departure from the traditional perspective — were a precursor of cubism. The art movement would first be concretised with Pablo Picasso's 1907 painting “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon”, one of the first omens of the revolution that would sweep through the art scene of the 20th century.
With a bold approach, Cezanne reimagined traditional themes (portrait, still life, nude, and landscape) in ways that had never been seen before. At times, his approach broke the rules of perspective, favouring a multi-dimensional style.
At others, he forwent the theory of perspective altogether in favour of geometric rules, basing his paintings on geometric forms such as triangles, circles, and squares instead of perspective lines. Art, he claimed, is a harmony running parallel to nature, not an imitation of nature.
The exhibition showcases more than 80 selected works from Cezanne’s various periods, most of which on loan from global museums and private collections. At its core, the exhibition attempts to answer the question of why coming back to Cezanne is a necessity for every generation.