New Criterion, May 2020
Princeton University Art Museum Mounts a Major Exhibition Devoted to an Essential but Understudied Aspect of the Art of Paul Cézanne
International exhibition examining the artist’s profound interest in rock and geological formations to premiere at Princeton before traveling to Royal Academy of Arts, London
PRINCETON, N.J. – Throughout his 40-year career, the revolutionary French painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) made canvases that take rock formations as their principal subjects. Although they are among the artist’s most extraordinary landscapes, such paintings of geological forms have never been the focus of significant scholarship. Cézanne: The Rock and Quarry Paintings will feature approximately 15 of the most important of these paintings, as well as selected watercolors and related documentary material. Together, they reveal the artist’s fascination with geology, which began when he was a schoolboy in Aix-en-Provence and ultimately helped shape the radical innovations of his artistic practice.
Organized by the Princeton University Art Museum, Cézanne: The Rock and Quarry Paintings will be on view in Princeton from March 7-June 14, 2020, before traveling to the Royal Academy of Arts, London, from July 8-Oct. 18, 2020. The exhibition will include significant loans from museums and private collections in the U.S. and abroad, including the Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the National Gallery, London; the Kuntshaus Zürich; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Baltimore Museum of Art.
The exhibition is curated by John Elderfield, an independent Cézanne scholar who was until recently the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, distinguished curator and lecturer at the Princeton University Art Museum, and is chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art.
As a young artist in the mid-1860s, Cézanne found that rock formations were ideal subjects for his innovative use of thick paint applied directly to the canvas with a palette knife. In the late 1870s and early 1880s, as he painted in the Mediterranean coastal village of L’Estaque, such themes aided his return to sculptural subjects after he had absorbed the lessons of Impressionism. Finally, from the mid-1890s to almost the end of his life, he sought secluded places in which to paint, finding them both in rocky terrain deep in the forest of Fontainebleau and at two sites close to his home in Aix-en-Provence – within the abandoned Roman Bibémus Quarry and high up in the estate of a local manor house known as the Château Noir.
“This exhibition explores vital new territory in the art of the man often described as the father of modern art, positioning an understanding of the artist’s geological concerns as essential to gauging his pioneering innovations,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, director.
Cézanne: The Rock and Quarry Paintings will present a selection of works from the mid-1860s to early in the 20th century that reflect the artist’s interest in increasingly close-up depictions of rock formations, their geological structures shaping the compositions of the canvases. Cézanne was certainly conscious of the long history of European artists painting rocks and forests in the studio, but he avoided the often fantastic or picturesque aspects of such works, painting his canvases outdoors. As such, he learned from the plein-air practices of 19th-century artists, including the Impressionists’ personal responses to the shifting patterns of light on outdoor scenes. However, Cézanne’s unpopulated paintings reflect a more distanced, formalized view of nature as having its own, ancient order, an order that he recreated in conspicuously assembled, flat patches of colored paint. While abstraction was not his own aim, his innovations were deeply influential on early 20th-century artistic developments that moved in that direction, with both Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso reportedly having said, “Cézanne is the father of us all.”
A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition, featuring a major essay by Elderfield; an essay on the geological context of the work by Faya Causey and introductions to the sites at which Cézanne painted by Anna Swinbourne, both independent scholars; and catalogue entries on the works in the exhibition by Sara B. Green, Annamarie Iker and Ariel Kline, graduate students in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University. The catalogue will be published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press.
Cézanne: The Rock and Quarry Paintings is made possible by lead support from the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Curatorial Leadership Fund. Generous support is also provided by Stacey Roth Goergen, Class of 1990, and Robert B. Goergen and by the Judith and Anthony B. Evnin, Class of 1962, Exhibitions Fund. Additional supporters include the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Partners of the Princeton University Art Museum. The accompanying publication is made possible with support from Annette Merle-Smith and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fund.
About the Princeton University Art Museum
With a collecting history that extends back to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, with collections that have grown to include over 110,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe.
Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum also serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. Intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, the Museum offers a respite from the rush of daily life—a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture.
The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus, a short walk from the shops and restaurants of Nassau Street. Admission is free. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays.
Art@Bainbridge, the Museum’s new gallery project dedicated to emerging contemporary artists, is located at 158 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton. Admission is free. Art@Bainbridge hours are Sunday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
More information: artmuseum.princeton.edu
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