Cézanne and American Modernism

February 14–May 23, 2010

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Paul Cézanne. Fruit and Jug on a Table

“PERHAPS I CAME TOO SOON. I WAS A PAINTER OF YOUR GENERATION MORE THAN MY OWN.” – Paul Cézanne

Arshile Gorky. Landscape, Staten Island. 1927– 1894. Collection of Richard Estes. ©Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Gorky emigrated from Armenia to New York in 1920 and educated himself in art history in museums, galleries and poring over art books. By 1926, he had “apprenticed” himself to Cézanne, creating faithful imitations of his works and adapting his favorite subjects. To paint landscapes in the manner of the French master, he looked for corners of Provence in such unlikely places as Staten Island.

About the
Exhibition

Influencing a New Generation

During the 1920s, Cézanne’s reputation as the father of modern art was established in exhibitions across the country, with major shows of his work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1920), the Brooklyn Museum (1921), and The Museum of Modern Art (1929), among others. These exhibitions allowed Cézanne to inspire a new generation of younger artists discovering him for the first time. This includes Arshile Gorky, who created strikingly faithful imitations of Cézanne’s work while living in New York.

African-American artists William H. Johnson and Hale Woodruff both visited France during this period and embraced aspects of Cézanne’s palette and structural style early in their careers. Woodruff lived for a time in Cagnes-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean coast, and traveled to Aix-en-Provence and Arles, where he was inspired by the landscapes that shaped the work of Cézanne and Van Gogh. In an interview in 1968, Woodruff recounted, “…I saw how Cézanne, Picasso, and the African had a terrific unique sense of form…My painting consisted largely of figures and landscapes. They were done in a manner of the structural style of the African sculptor and of Cézanne, who was a forerunner of Picasso.”