The Princeton University Art Museum’s exhibition designed to highlight the work of one of the great innovators of the Western art tradition, Paul Cezanne, has not been able to receive audiences because of the COVID-19-related museum closure.
But “Cezanne: The Rock and Quarry Paintings” can still be explored in the accompanying catalog created for the exhibition and available through the museum.
PUAM Director James Steward puts the effort into perspective in the following excerpt from his introduction:
At critical moments over his 40-year career, the revolutionary French painter Paul Cezanne (1839–1906) made extraordinary canvases that took rock formations as their principal subjects.
The Princeton University Art Museum is proud to present the first publication and exhibition exclusively dedicated to this subject.
The present volume, “Cezanne: The Rock and Quarry Paintings,” examines the entire range of such works, revealing the artist’s fascination with geology, which began when he was a schoolboy in Aix-en-Provence and culminated in influencing the radical changes he made in his art during the final decade of his life.
The exhibition it accompanies presents as full a selection as was possible of these canvases, along with a group of related watercolors. Together, they span the development of Cezanne’s preoccupation with this subject matter from the mid-1860s, when he was in his late twenties, into the early years of the twentieth century, when his inestimably important influence on new modern art was becoming firmly established.
In following this motif through the artist’s career, our project links the early, already ambitious Cezanne before he discovered Impressionism to the figure who, more than anyone else, transformed the entire Western landscape tradition.
Cezanne was certainly conscious of the long history of European artists painting rocks and forests in compositions produced in the studio, but he avoided the often fantastic or picturesque aspects of such works, always painting his canvases out of doors. As such, he learned from the plein air practices of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists, while transforming them by the methods in which he painted.
As a young artist in the mid-1860s, he found that rock formations were ideal subjects for his innovative use of thick paint applied with a palette knife. Then, in the late 1870s and early 1880s, as he painted in the Mediterranean coastal village of L’Estaque, they aided his return to sculptural subjects after he had absorbed the lessons of the Impressionists’ personal responses to the shifting patterns of light on outdoor scenes.
His unpopulated paintings reflect a more distanced, formalized view of nature as of its own, ancient order, re-created in conspicuously assembled, flat patches of colored paint. As John Elderfield so brilliantly establishes in this catalogue and exhibition, Cezanne carried this revolutionary approach to painting in canvases that he made from the mid-1890s to almost the end of his life, when he sought secluded places in which to find his favored subjects: amid the rocky terrain deep in the Forest of Fontainebleau, and mainly at two sites close to his home in Aix-enProvence — within the abandoned Roman, Bibemus Quarry and high up in the estate of a local manor house known as the Château Noir. His work at these four sites is the principal focus of this project.
Cezanne: The Rock and Quarry Paintings, 192 pages, $45, 2020, published by Princeton University Art Museum, distributed by Yale University Press. artmuseum.princeton.edu.