Cézanne and the Modern
This fall, visitors to the Princeton University Art Museum have the opportunity to view remarkable works from the Pearlman Collection by Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Édouard Manet, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaïm Soutine, and—especially—Paul Cézanne. The works return to Princeton, where they have been on loan since 1976, fresh from an international tour with record-breaking attendance that included the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Musée Granet in Cézanne’s hometown of Aix-en-Provence, the High Museum in Atlanta, and the Vancouver Art Gallery. In the past year and a half, more than 440,000 people flocked to these venues, sometimes waiting in long lines, to experience Henry Pearlman’s particular vision of modern art that privileged the work of Post-Impressionist and early twentieth-century masters and favored strong compositions, vibrant colors, and visible brushstrokes.
Henry Pearlman (1895–1974) assembled his collection over three decades. A self-made man, he worked his way up from a seven-dollar-a-week job as a secretary at the United Cork Company to a sales position, eventually founding his own firm, Eastern Cold Storage, in 1919. He made his first tentative art acquisitions in the early 1940s, but it was his purchase of a landscape by Chaïm Soutine in 1945 that inspired him to focus his efforts on challenging works by modernist masters. He was passionate about the artists he collected and studied their lives and their relationships with each other. His interest in Soutine led him to that artist’s friend Amedeo Modigliani and to those who influenced him, including the painter who would become Pearlman’s most enduring fascination, Paul Cézanne.
Without question, the twenty-four drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings by Cézanne form the centerpiece of the Pearlman Collection—particularly the sixteen watercolors that are among the finest and best-preserved compilations of the artist’s work in that medium. In the exhibition at Princeton, the oil paintings and watercolors are interspersed, which follows the artist’s working practice. Cézanne explored in watercolor many of the same technical questions of color and composition that he sought to elucidate in his oil paintings. Visitors to the exhibition can witness the dialogue between the two media in the many works that highlight the same or similar subjects in oil and watercolor.
Princeton’s intimately scaled galleries provide the perfect setting for the collection: Pearlman and his wife, Rose, acquired these works in order to live with them, displaying them for their personal pleasure in their home and in Henry’s modest office. The Princeton exhibition is unique among the venues in featuring objects that could not travel, such as Degas’s magnificent pastel The Morning Bath, which was deemed too fragile for the rigors of a four-nation tour. The work is shown in relation to the later Degas oil painting After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself, giving visitors the chance to compare the artist’s approach to this significant subject in his oeuvre in oil paintings and pastels and at different moments in his practice. Also exclusive to the Princeton exhibition, two of the Cézanne watercolors are displayed in cases that allow viewers to see the drawings on both sides of the paper, offering a glimpse into the artist’s working process.
In order to prepare the exhibition and publish the collection, the Museum assembled an exceptional group of specialists—including art historians from Princeton University’s Department of Art and Archaeology, the Museum’s curators, conservators, and independent scholars—who undertook new research for the catalogue Cézanne and the Modern. These investigations included technical analyses and comprehensive studies of the provenance of each object. These efforts yielded important discoveries; indeed, some paintings have been retitled or redated thanks to this work. Perhaps the most dramatic revelations came through x-radiography of key works, which revealed, among other things, that the perpetually destitute Modigliani painted Jean Cocteau over another portrait, probably a canvas borrowed from his artist friend Moïse Kisling.
In another tantalizing example, scientific analysis appears to confirm a story Henry Pearlman shared in his Reminiscences of a Collector, which is reprinted in its entirety in the exhibition catalogue. In his memoir, he described his acquisition of Gauguin’s relief sculpture Te Fare Amu and confessed to having a portion of the work painted over because he feared it would prove too sensual in its original form for American audiences. An early black-and-white photograph and x-radiography reveal that the pudenda of the serpentine figure were originally painted another color.
Henry Pearlman and the development of his collection were a principal focus of the project research. Princeton University Associate Professor Rachael Z. DeLue, in her essay “The Pearlman Collection in Context,” offers perceptive comparisons between his approach to collecting and those of his contemporaries, such as Albert Barnes. Pearlman may not always have had the deepest pockets, but his exquisite taste and a canny sense of the art of the deal helped him assemble a group of works notable for their exceptional quality. A detailed chronology of Henry Pearlman’s life and the development and exhibition of the collection gives insights into the works and serves as an important contribution to the scholarship on American twentieth-century collecting practices.
The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation—the steward of the collection whose mission is to broaden the public reach and deepen the personal experience of art while conserving the original works in its collection for future audiences—has served as the Museum’s partner at every phase of the exhibition’s development. Made up of two generations of Pearlman descendants, the Foundation board have given generously of their time and their knowledge of the collection’s history. Several members of the family agreed to take part in taped interviews that gave the Museum valuable insights into Henry and Rose, not just into their collecting but into who they were as people. Some of those recollections can be found on the special website developed for Cézanne and the Modern (artmuseum.princeton.edu/cezanne-modern). This resource, available in English and French, provides information on many of the Pearlman objects as well as expert commentaries and can be accessed by smartphones in the exhibition or from any tablet or desktop.
Henry Pearlman considered living with these works of art a privilege that enhanced his life. Perhaps hoping that others might share that experience, during his lifetime he lent the objects in the collection widely to institutions across the country. When Henry died suddenly in 1974, his widow Rose found a home for much of the collection as a long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum, which has cared for it to this day. Since that time, forty graduating classes of Princeton students have been fortunate to study these works as part of their courses or simply to interact with the objects informally in the galleries. The scholarship of the present project would have appealed to Henry’s interest in the study of the artists whom he loved; he might, however, have preferred those more informal moments—the singular, one-on-one interactions when a student or visitor felt what he described as “a lift” when viewing one of these exceptional works of art.
Associate Director for Education