’Tis the Cézanne

DAI’s Fractured Forms exhibition examines timeless influence on modern painting

By Gary Spencer

The Fixx once sang in their one-hit wonder from the 1980s “one thing leads to another,” and that is certainly the case in the history of visual art. Although one artist or movement may not have seemed like the logical successor to artists or movements preceding them, looking back one can see how the precedents informed the latter and how the latter artist or movement set the stage for what was to follow. That is certainly the case when one examines the work and influence of late 19th century French painter Paul Cézanne, a man who history has seen as the bridge between the popular late 19th century Impressionism artistic movement into the more abstract movement that later became known as Cubism in the early 20th century and beyond, and is currently the focal point of the Fractured Forms exhibition at the Dayton Art Institute.

Fractured Forms explores the seismic shift provoked by Paul Cézanne as a catalyst, and touchstone for his near contemporaries and artists who followed,” explains Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, chief curator at the Dayton Art Institute. “This exhibition provides insight into a select group of artists who responded in a profound way to the work of Paul Cézanne that altered the course of art history. The legacy of Cézanne’s creativity and innovation that extended from this great French master to succeeding generations of artists remains in effect today.”

Fractured Forms’ centerpiece is Paul Cézanne’s “The Pigeon Tower at Bellevue” which depicts a towering rock formation in the small town of Bellevue in southern France. Cézanne exaggerated the rock’s shape, extending it vertically and to the left, creating a geometric focal point of interest in the composition. From there, the exhibit includes many pieces of art influenced or derived by the art of Cézanne including works by Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Ellsworth Kelly and Roy Lichtenstein.

“I negotiated the loan of the Cézanne painting from the Cleveland Museum of Art and built a series of two exhibitions; Toil and Leisure: The Evolution of French Landscape Painting in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Fractured Forms: The Impact of Paul Cézanne on Art, around this important picture that were supplemented with objects from Dayton’s rich collection,” DeGalan explains.

The Toil and Leisure companion exhibition that ended back in late January looked at the evolution of 19th century French landscape painting, and the Fractured Forms exhibit picks up where the former left off.

“Between the 18th and 19th centuries, French landscape painting underwent a significant shift in sensibilities from a minor genre rooted in classical traditions to a primary vehicle for artistic experimentation,” DeGalan explains. “Paul Cézanne played a pivotal role in facilitating this transition. In pre-revolutionary France, the mood and the palette was light and landscape painting reflected the frivolity and sensuous excesses of the French court. By the 1830s, however, the palette darkened, and classically inspired and idealized visions of the land gave way to those depicted directly from nature. These shifts in approach paved the way for a modern approach by
Cézanne and his contemporaries, the focus of which forms part two of this
series.”

DeGalan continues in greater detail about the influence of Cézanne on not just the art of turn of the century France, but on his contemporaries around the world and subsequent artistic movements to come.

“In Fractured Forms, the exhibition examines the work of Cézanne’s near contemporaries and of those who were profoundly impacted by his approach. Cézanne did not exhibit a lot of his work publicly, however there was a posthumous retrospective exhibition in 1907, which was a watershed event in the history of art. That exhibition exposed a successive generation of artists to his approach of looking at a subject from a multitude of angles and fracturing its forms. It was this aspect of Cézanne’s analytical practice that led the future Cubists to regard him as their true mentor. Many artists, including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, John Storrs and Jacques Lipchitz, whose works appear in Fractured Forms, distilled these messages and applied them in their approach.”

While the overarching concept of Fractured Forms and the grand influence of Cézanne on so many artists and artistic movements may seem like a nebulous concept to art novices, DeGalan contends that once spectators come to see the exhibition, they’ll have a greater understanding and ability to connect the dots between Cézanne  and the work of his successors.

“Saying that Paul Cézanne influenced artists visually and conceptually may be a difficult concept to grasp, however, when accompanied by the examples featured in the exhibition, nearly all of which have accompanying labels pointing visitors to specific examples of just how Cézanne influenced them. We feel that it is an exhibition that can enlighten rather than operate on a level that requires a lot of pre-existing knowledge about the artist and the period,” DeGalan says. “Our goal is to make art approachable and create context, and we always learn from our patrons about their understanding of a work of art, which makes our understanding that much richer.”

Fractured Forms: The Impact of Paul Cézanne on Art is on display now through April 24 at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North in Dayton. For more information, include hours and cost of admission, please visit daytonartinstitute.org.

Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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