Today I finally went to the big show of landscape paintings of Provence that has been at the Musée des Beaux Arts this fall. The show is huge, comprehensive, and beautifully hung: friends had warned me that it was a three-hour affair, at minimum. I made an alternative plan and stuck to it: knowing there would be a number of paintings by Cezanne in the show, I decided to look at the earlier works quickly and spend my time with just the few works that I really wanted to study. That's what I did, and wasn't disappointed. The Cezannes formed, for me, the centerpiece of the whole exhibition; nothing before or after had the power of these canvases, even the VanGoghs which were, predictably, mobbed in a room of their own. There was a large gallery devoted to Cezanne, and two paintings in particular that captured me; I walked back and forth between them for about an hour. One was a large canvas, with deep blues set against ochre and burnt orange - a chateau seen through in a forest - a study in how to use complementary colors, rather than dark and light, to create contrast and intensity. The other was brighter, earlier, with a wonderful sky and white buildings with tile roofs above jewel-like, emerald poplars. Everything about the painting was masterful - the vigorous brushwork, laid down in specific directions that emphasized every form; the blue-black branches that continually led the eye into the center of the picture and upward; the use of entirely different complementary colors, here plus white, rather than black; the tiny touches of bright red that unified the picture. I stood there as scores of people came and went, discovering more and more, and feeling more and more dumbfounded at the greatness and surety of this genius. It was, in its way, a silent master class.
I did go and see the VanGoghs. Standing in front of one of his canvases - and this is Canada, you can get within a nose-hair of the surface without a guard jumping on you - I thought of Van Gogh himself standing exactly where I was, laying down one of those tortured strokes, and had one of those moments of empathy and identification that sometimes come when I'm with a painting. He was here, he actually painted this: I could feel the heft of the brush, the decision to touch or not to touch the surface, the paint going down in a swirling arc. I don't feel that way about Cezanne because, I suppose, he is not as human to me; I have read a lot about him but not his letters, the way I have with Van Gogh, who will always remain a person to me, even more than a genius in his own right.
And there were some lovely drawings and small watercolors, by different artists, of the famous mountain Saint-Victoire.
After Cezanne - several rooms of pointillism, which I can't bear, and then the Fauves, with a few really good paintings by Derain, Braque, Dufy (the postcard at left is of a wild landscape by Dufy) among some lackluster ones.
It made me want to start painting again.