Cézanne and American Modernism

February 14–May 23, 2010

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Paul Cézanne. Fruit and Jug on a Table


Morgan Russell. Three Apples. 1910. The Musuem of Modern Art, New York. Given anonymously 1949 (349.1949.2). Digital Image ©The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY. ©Simone DeVirgile

Morgan Russell moved to Paris in 1909, and saw Cézanne’s Five Apples at the apartment of Gertrude and Leo Stein. He studied the formal properties of Cézanne still lifes for what they revealed about the physics and psychology of color. Three Apples is the result of Russell’s desire, inspired by Cézanne, to define forms by means of contrasting color patches rather than with traditional chiaroscuro (light and dark) modeling.

About the

Shaping American Modernism

The landmark Armory Show of modern art in 1913 was the American public’s first large-scale introduction to modern art, and featured 13 oil paintings, one watercolor, and two prints by Cézanne. Two paintings from this show on view in the exhibition include the first work by Cézanne ever purchased by an American museum, View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph, which was acquired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Oscar Bluemner’s Hackensack River.

His Impact on American Artists

Cézanne’s transformative impact on American artists is revealed in the way they adapted his subjects and stylistic hallmarks such as his signature technique of painting with patches of color, as well as his affinity for vibrant colors, tilted table tops, multiple views, and complex structures. Some artists literally followed in his footsteps, like Marsden Hartley, who was compelled to move to the south of France, where he produced his own rugged and colorful landscapes. Others like Man Ray embraced Cézanne’s example early in their careers before finding their own artistic voice. Ray’s Cubist-inspired compositions of bathers clearly pay homage to Cézanne’s powerful images of the same topic.

Inspiring American Photography

Cézanne’s influence on early 20th-century American photography is highlighted for the first time with examples by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, and others who played a pivotal role in introducing modernism to America. Their experimentation included closely cropped portraits, abstract still lifes, and nudes and bathers in landscape settings. American photographers also were instrumental in spreading the word about the work of Cézanne, the consummate painter. Stieglitz and Steichen opened the pioneering gallery 291, which was the first in the U.S. to exhibit Cézanne’s works, in a group show in 1910 and a solo exhibition in 1911.

Cézanne in the American West

Another surprising aspect of the exhibition is Cézanne’s remarkable impact on art in the western United States. Artists Willard Nash, Józef Bakoś, and B.J.O Nordfeldt spent varying lengths of time in the region and merged Cézanne’s influence with inspiration from the western landscape and culture. As the first exhibition of Cézanne’s work in the West was in Portland, Oregon, in 1913, most artists in the western U.S. grew familiar with his work through reproductions or from artists such as Stanton Macdonald-Wright, who learned about the French master in Europe and later taught in California.