Art exhibition review: Cezanne at Tate Modern  5 October 2022 – 12 March 2023

A few days ago I had the chance to preview Tate Modern’s latest exhibition, a once-in-a-generation retrospective featuring paintings, watercolours and drawings by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) never before shown in the UK. The EY Exhibition: Cezanne brings together over 80 carefully selected works from collections in Europe, Asia, North and South America, giving UK audiences their first opportunity in over 25 years to explore the breadth of Cezanne’s career. 
Monica Costa editor London Mums magazine posing at tate modern in cezanne studio posing for mums magazine

Who was Paul Cezanne?

Featuring key examples of his iconic still life paintings, Provençale landscapes, portraits and bather scenes, the exhibition includes over 20 works never seen in the UK before such as The Basket of Apples c.1893 (The Art Institute of Chicago), Mont Sainte-Victoire 1902-06 (Philadelphia Museum of Art) and Still Life with Milk Pot, Melon, and Sugar Bowl 1900-06 (private collection). New research into the colours, compositions and techniques used in these works will reveal how the artist’s bold approach challenged conventions and in ways that continue to influence painters working today.
Still Life with Apples painting by Paul Cézanne

Still Life with Apples; Paul Cézanne (French, 1839 – 1906); 1893–1894; Oil on canvas; 65.4 × 81.6 cm (25 3/4 × 32 1/8 in.); 96.PA.8; No Copyright – United States

Curators Natalia Sidlina, Curator, International Art, Tate Modern, and Michael Raymond, Assistant Curator, International Art, Tate Modern gave us journalists a great ‘discovery tour’ explaining the events, places and relationships that shaped Cezanne’s life and work. The exhibition tells the story of a young ambitious painter from the southern city of Aix-en-Provence, determined to succeed as an artist in metropolitan Paris in the 1860s, yet constantly rejected by the art establishment. It reveals how he befriended Camille Pissarro and associated with the Impressionists in the 1870s, but soon distanced himself from their circle and the Parisian art scene to forge his own path, returning to his native Provence in relentless pursuit of his own radical style.
Paul Cezanne - Portrait of the Artist with Pink Background

Paul Cezanne – Portrait of the Artist with Pink Background 1875. Paris, Musée d’Orsay, donation de M. Philippe Meyer, 2000

The format of the exhibition 

The exhibition traces Cezanne’s artistic development from early paintings made in his twenties such as the striking portrait Scipio 1866-8 (Museu de Arte de São Paulo) through to works completed in the final months of his life like Seated Man 1905-6 (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid). Highlights include a room of outstanding paintings depicting the limestone mountain Sainte-Victoire, charting the dramatic evolution of his style through this single motif. Another gallery brings together several magnificent examples of Cezanne’s bather paintings, a lifelong subject for the artist, including The National Gallery’s Bathers 1894–1905, one of his largest and most celebrated paintings created in the final stage of his career.

Paul Cezanne Bathers

Paul Cezanne – Bathers c.1894-1905. Presented by the National Gallery, purchased with a special grant and the aid of the Max Rayne Foundation, 1964

While Cezanne is often mythologised as a solitary figure, the exhibition spotlights the relationships central to his life, particularly his wife Marie-Hortense Fiquet and their son Paul, immortalised in paintings such as Madame Cezanne in a Red Armchair c.1877 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and Portrait of the Artist’s Son 1881-2 (Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris). It examines Cezanne’s intense relationship with childhood friend Émile Zola and reveals how peers such as Monet and Pissarro were among the first to appreciate his unique vision. Many great artists even collected Cezanne’s works, with previous owners including Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Henry Moore. 

Paul Cezanne Portrait of the Artist's Son

Paul Cezanne – Portrait of the Artist’s Son 1881-2. Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Collection

Why is this retrospective important?

While moving from one room to the next, we see the evolution of Cezanne as a young man exploring his artistic skills. We experience his transformation from dark and ominous angry man to bright and breezy artist to come back to darker subjects, when the apples are replaced by skulls in the last years of his life. 
cezanne painting of skulls on a table still life
The exhibition shows how he comes full circle: the troubled youth comes to the troubled death. This retrospective is important to get the feel for the the artist. During wars and unrested times in Paris, he felt unsafe and escaped to the countryside which gave him the opportunity to paint landscapes. It’s a good attitude. He always saw the bright side and tried to make the most of what he had. Cezanne was very innovative in his lifetime. He tried to find his own style because he wasn’t satisfied with the Impressionists. By doing so, he paved the way for Surrealism. In the last few years of his life, Cezanne was recognised as one of the greats in the artists’ circles. But not commercially, while he was still alive. Luckily his banker father subsided his entire career and he did not need to bother to sell anything.  

Who should visit The EY Exhibition: Cezanne?

This exhibition is suitable for anybody who has an interest in art but not necessarily very knowledgeable. You come away feeling in the know of Cezanne and his unique contribution to a whole generation of artists. You come away feeling like a specialist knowing at least how to recognise his peculiar diagonal brushstrokes. 
Teenagers would learn how to put art into a specific historical moment and would discover how Paul Cezanne’s still lifes and landscapes changed the history of painting.
The EY Exhibition: Cezanne – organised by Tate Modern and the Art Institute of Chicago and presented in the Eyal Ofer Galleries at Tate Modern – is now open until 12 March 2023.


Tickets are available directly from the museum

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