A  year after Paul Cézanne’s death in 1906, the Paris Salon d’Automne staged a large retrospective of the artist’s work, exhibiting some fifty-six paintings and a number of watercolors, constituting a watershed moment in the history of art.  While some artists, like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, were familiar with Cézanne’s work during his lifetime, particularly through the Paris gallery dealer Ambroise Vollard’s frequent exhibitions, many others gained their first exposure to Cézanne at the Salon d’Automne. The permanent and lasting impact of this exhibition, and the many others that have followed over the last hundred years, formed the premise for the exhibition Cézanne and Beyond at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906)
The Large Bathers, 1906
Oil on canvas, 82-7/8 x 98-3/4 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund. W1937-1-1

Cézanne and Beyond begins with these sparks — the moments when artists come into contact with this pivotal figure, and how these encounters shaped their artistic development. The sixteen artists included in the show — Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Piet Mondrian, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, Fernand Léger, Giorgio Morandi, Liubov Popova, Max Beckmann, Alberto Giacometti, Arshile Gorky, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, Brice Marden, and Jeff Wall — repeatedly examined Cézanne’s work as they formed their own artistic identities. Their work is not only on par with the master, easily sharing his company in the galleries, they also provide us as viewers with new lenses through which to examine Cézanne. They also make clear that his influence continues.

The works in Cézanne and Beyond sometimes enter into direct conversations with Cézanne’s oeuvre — like single female figures by Matisse and Léger that relate to countless portraits of Madame Cézanne. Others are contemplations based on a more subtle study of Cézanne’s work — like Kelly’s abstract painting of mustard fields out his train window. The artists here are all explicit about their relationships to the Master of Aix, revealing their kinship through statements in interviews, journals, memoirs, and sometimes simply with their work. They all, to one degree or another, regard Cézanne as Matisse famously did, as “the father of us all.”  In the following pages, seminal works demonstrate these connections and shed new light on these major figures in modernism.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)
The Bathers, 1956
Bronze, variable dimensions
Kykuit, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Nelson A. Rockefeller Bequest
© 2008 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)
The Bathers, 1956
Bronze, variable dimensions
Kykuit, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Nelson A. Rockefeller Bequest
© 2008 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Picasso gained a familiarity with Cézanne’s work from his first visits to Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century, and he invoked the Master again and again throughout his long and varied career. Cézanne’s bathers, in particular, had a huge impact on Picasso. As early as 1905, the young artist purchased a Cézanne lithograph based on the painting Bathers at Rest (now in the collection of the Barnes Foundation) displaying it in his studio for his own study as well as for fellow artists who visited him. When he later visited the Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d’Automne he saw the Large Bathers, which would have a lasting influence. Perhaps Picasso saw the painting even earlier, as it generates such a fascinating conversation with his landmark Les Demoiselles d’Avignon painted in early 1907. The positioning of related yet isolated figures, the compression of space into flat planes on the surface, and the painting’s monumentality all conjure the late Cézanne painting, linking the two inextricably together.

Almost fifty years later, Picasso purchased the Cézanne painting Five Bathers (1877–1878), and shortly thereafter began crafting sculptural figures, nailing scraps of wood together to make a standing group of bathers. Later cast in bronze, these bathers gather around as if on the banks of a river, watching their companion wading. The grouping evokes the Large Bathers painting — the figures are staid and static, solitary and individual, even as they stand together in a group, and the ambiguity of space within each piece invites the viewer in to explore its facets in a physical way. The classical subject of bathers takes on new meaning in the hands of each artist, with Picasso carrying Cézanne’s investigations forward to achieve his own uniquely twentieth-century goals.

Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906)
Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair, ca. 1877
Oil on canvas, 28-9/16 x 22-1/16 inches
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, bequest of Robert Treat Paine II
Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954)
Woman in Blue, 1937
Oil on canvas, 36-1/2 x 29 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen, 1956
© 2008 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Fernand Léger (French, 1881–1955)
Woman in Blue, 1912
Oil on canvas, 76 x 51-1/8 inches
Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, Kunstmuseum, Basel
© 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Matisse’s interaction with Cézanne’s work came relatively early in his career; he saw Cézanne’s paintings at Ambroise Vollard’s Paris gallery and at the Musée Luxembourg in the early 1890s. By 1899, Matisse had purchased his first Cézanne painting, the pivotal Three Bathers (1879–1882), one of Cézanne’s most important bather paintings. Sacrificing much financially to hold onto this painting for over thirty years, Matisse referred to it frequently as an inspiration for his own work, and made an example of it for his students at the Académie Matisse. As his student, the American painter Max Weber, remembered: “His silence before the picture was more evocative and more eloquent than words. At moments such as this a mood of enthusiasm and veneration filled the studio.”1 While Matisse also repeatedly quoted Cézanne’s own admonition, “Beware of the influential master,” it is clear that Matisse engaged in an intense and lifelong conversation with Cézanne, evident in paintings like his Woman in Blue. This portrait reveals Matisse’s close study of paintings like Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair, a work he saw at the 1907 Salon d’Automne and again at the 1936 retrospective exhibition at the Musée de l’Orangerie commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the artist’s death, just a year before Matisse painted his Woman. Clearly making the subject his own, Matisse amplifies Cézanne’s colors, charging the red of the chair and the blue of the dress with a new energy and intensity that heighten the picture’s abstract qualities. Cézanne’s Madame, sitting heavily in her subtly painted striped skirt, becomes Matisse’s Woman, constructed out of flat planes of color and seemingly floating in space, directly on the surface of the painting.

As Matisse did with color, Léger in turn took Cézanne to the very limits of abstraction. As he said in 1912, “I fought the battle to abandon Cézanne. His influence was so strong that in order to free myself I had to move all the way to abstraction. In La Femme en bleu [The Woman in Blue]…I felt I was breaking free from Cézanne.”2 Even in this “breaking free,” however, Léger retained the lessons he learned from Cézanne. His bold shapes and colors and his flattening of space recall Cézanne’s portrait, as does the treatment of the subject as an inanimate object like an apple. The younger artist breaks down Cézanne’s forms — the mass of the chair, the details of the skirt — and reassembles them into a study in abstraction that forever changed modern art. Both Matisse and Léger passed along Cézanne’s “legacy” through their teaching, guiding a new generation of artists to encounter Cézanne with fresh eyes.

Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906)
Seated Man, 1898–1900
Oil on canvas, 40-5/16 x 29-3/4 inches
The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo
Marsden Hartley (American, 1877–1943)
Young Hunter Hearing Call to Arms, ca. 1939
Oil on masonite, 41 x 30-1/4 inches
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Patrons Art Fund, 44.1.2

Cézanne’s influence spread to the United States thanks to a few passionate artists, collectors, and dealers who brought his images and ideas back from France, as well as through exhibitions, such as the seminal 1913 Armory Show in New York, which included some of the artist’s works. The writer Gertrude Stein and her brothers were major collectors of Cézanne’s work and made the paintings they owned available to artists—many of whom were Americans traveling or living abroad—during their weekly salons in Paris. The gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz also exposed numerous young American artists to Cézanne in 1911 with the first exhibition of the artist’s work in the United States. Cézanne’s modernism was also promulgated by a number of artists, including Max Weber, who came back from Paris with firsthand accounts of exhibitions he visited as well as a suitecase full of black and white photographs of Cézanne’s paintings. Marsden Hartley interacted with all of these people at the beginning of his career, learning of Cézanne first through Weber and Stieglitz. Upon Hartley’s urging, Stieglitz sent the young painter black and white reproductions of Cézanne’s paintings from Meier-Graefe’s volume on Cézanne, and the artist began painting Cézanne-inspired still lifes right away, without any idea of his color palette. When he finally saw the older artist’s paintings in person at the Havemeyer collection in New York later that year, he was struck by their intensity and vowed to visit Paris as soon as possible.

Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906)
Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1902–1906
Oil on canvas, 25-1/8 x 32-1/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Purchase, Nelson Trust. 38–6
Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923)
Train Landscape, 1952–1953
Oil on canvas (three joined panels), 44 x 44 inches
Collection of the artist
On loan to Art Institute of Chicago
© Ellsworth Kelly

When he was a teenager, Kelly’s mother gave him the book World Famous Paintings, edited by the artist Rockwell Kent. In it, Kelly found an image of Cézanne’s Chestnut Trees at the Jas de Bouffan (1885–1886), which he pulled out and pinned to his wall, giving him daily interaction with a work that would have a momentous impact on his own painting. Ever since his initial encounter with Cézanne, Kelly has explored many of the formal relationships set up in Chestnut Trees, particularly the tensions between foreground and background, surface and depth, and positive and negative space, all of which have provided an immeasurable resource for his work.

Another ongoing catalyst for Kelly is Cézanne’s use of color to create form. Cézanne endeavored to capture his sensations of nature directly, through color, rather than constructing an illusion of reality, with the painting as a sort of window onto the world. In Mont Sainte-Victoire, Cézanne divides his canvas into three bands of color, effectively flattening the deep perspective of a mountain view and bringing it right up to the picture plane, with dabs of color that sit directly on the painting’s surface. As if boiling Cézanne’s painting down to its essential parts, Kelly’s Train Landscape consists of three monochrome horizontal panels, joined together to create an effect of space and surface similar to the Mont Sainte-Victoire. Kelly first conceived of Train Landscape while looking out a moving train’s window onto an expanse of mustard growing in a field, but his process of painting is less about representing a landscape in a recognizable way, and more about being true to his perceptions of nature. Kelly’s planes of single colors take Cézanne’s sensation to an extreme conclusion, and in turn help us see Cézanne’s painting in a new way. Through Kelly’s eyes—and those of all the artists in Cézanne and Beyond—Cézanne’s work continues to reveal its complexity, richness, and, most of all, its relevancy.

Adrianne O. Bratis is the research assistant for the Cezanne and Beyond exhibition, in the department of European Painting before 1900 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

This archive article was originally published in the 9th Anniversary edition of Antiques & Fine Art magazine, a fully digitized version of which is available at www.afamag.com. AFA is affiliated with Incollect.