The impression is that of walking into a gallery of Abstract Art, possibly of the late ’60s. In fact, the artist is Cézanne, and the pictures are from the late 19th century.
In the first room of the exhibition ‘Cézanne and the Modern’ at the Ashmolean there are mainly watercolours, and the predominant colour is white. It strikes me as really un-Cézanne-like, as I’m used to vibrant landscapes with energetic brushstrokes and still lives where geometry plays the main part. It’s surprising – in a positive way – to discover this delicate side of the artist. One of my favourites paintings on display is Rocks at Bibémus (the one above): if you are too close you can’t really understand what the picture portrays, but if you step back you can appreciate the colours of Provence, a land Cézanne was so fond of.
The second room features Impressionists and Post-Impressionists such as Degas, Gaugain, Van Gogh. The exhibition doesn’t fail to acknowledge the importance of Cézanne in the artistic movements of the second half of the 19th century. The set up emphasises the chronological development rather than any thematic path; this is somewhat unusual, as sometimes exhibitions tend to focus on thematic areas and investigate how different painters have dealt with them. Here the concept is clear: Cézanne can be seen as a springboard for many subsequent artists.
The third room explores further developments of Cezanne’s art, focussing on Paris of the ’20s, which makes me wish (once more) I was born more or less a century earlier. That city, those artists, that magic atmosphere of innovations and experiments is one of the most thrilling enviroments in the whole history of art, and one I would very much have loved to witness. But exhibitions such as this make me think that not everything is lost, and that I can still get a glimpse of what that amazing epoch was like.
Interesting discoveries, new artists to learn about (including Lipchitz and Soutin), but overall an feeling of joy at the contemplation of Cézanne (and others’) ‘impressions’.