three of a kind


It is not possible to overstate the influence of Paul Cézanne on twentieth-century art. He’s the modern Giotto, someone who shattered one kind of picture-making and invented a new one that the world followed. Matisse called Cézanne “a sort of God”; Picasso said he was “the father of us all.” Max Beckmann called him “the last old master … the first new master.” He’s also an artist who can be hard to come to terms with: Great art often looks ugly when first seen, and Cézanne’s is an extreme case, so much so that his work can still vex. His optical disequilibrium made peers dubious, friends skeptical, and critics jeer. Twelve stunning Cézanne canvases are now up at the Metropolitan, in a teensy show centered on three of his five Card Players paintings. They’re fantastic, even if they’re not my favorite Cézannes—those would be the bathers, still lifes, and landscapes—and they precisely mark a turning point in the history of art. These quietly grand insurrectionary works were made around Aix-en-Provence in the 1890s, when Cézanne was in his fifties and growing sickly. He had, by then, been virtually abandoned by increasingly successful Impressionist colleagues, who felt that the public ridicule his work attracted reflected poorly on their group exhibition. (In his time, he was attacked far more than Van Gogh was.)

more from Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine here.