A look at ‘Cézanne and the Modern’
By Ed Appleby, Illustrator
The Vancouver Art Gallery’s current exhibit looks at several pieces by notable names of the French Modernist movement, from Realism, through Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, and Cubism. Paintings make up the bulk of the exhibit, with some sculpture work included from artists of the time. The cornerstones of the collection are several paintings from Paul Cézanne.
The exhibit itself appears to be wanting. Although there are a few great pieces by Édouard Manet, Chaïm Soutine, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the exhibit lacks any pieces of a truly visceral nature. I have been to other exhibits at the Vancouver Art Gallery that have left more of an impact on me—Claude Monet, Rodin, and Frida Kahlo/Georgia O’Keeffe spring to mind. This exhibit seems to focus on the process that the modernists brought rather than the emotional and expressive nature of their works.
When it comes to the modernists’ process, you cannot doubt the innovation on display at the exhibit. Cézanne’s watercolour collection is impressive and you can truly see how he innovated with colour to portray depth rather than realism. The exhibit forms a timeline of who influenced whom, as well as a fascinating cross-section of the modernist movement. The downside with such a conceptual exhibit is it tends to attract artists who love to talk about how the modernists influenced their own works, rather than focus on the works on display.
Another interesting part of the exhibit is its focus on the collector, Henry Pearlman. Most collections are content with letting the art speak for itself, but in this case there was an important reason to focus on the man who brought this art together. His vocal support for the modernists and his love of collecting for the aesthetic appeal over the historical significance made him a unique personality in the collecting world. It is not often that, as appreciators of art, we get to see what goes into being a true patron of the arts.
It is also important to realize that Pearlman was not buying Rembrandts—these works were by contemporary artists who he could meet face-to-face. His love of the work brought him to France to compare the landscapes he had collected to the real thing. Some of the artists he loved and supported even repaid him in busts and sculptures of their patron—a lesson modern collectors and art fans can learn from.
Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art from the Pearlman Collection runs until May 18 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.