The Musée d'Orsay - From February 28, 2006 to May 28, 2006
The Musée d'Orsay offers an opportunity to look at two major artists of the second half of the 19th century, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro, in a totally new light.
Over the period of twenty years when these two painters were close friends they often worked on the same themes, treading the same paths around Pontoise and Auvers-sur-Oise. Each influenced the other, while retaining his own identity.
This exhibition of portraits, still lifes and landscapes by Cézanne and Pissarro demonstrates both analogies and differences. The resulting dialogue shows just what a crucial role their pictorial research played in the birth of twentieth century art.
In this centenary year of Cézanne's death, the Musée d'Orsay celebrates the "Master from Aix", presenting his work alongside that of the friend to whom in 1902 he paid this moving tribute: "As for old Pissarro, he was a father to me. He was a man to be consulted, rather like God."
Towards the end of his life, Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) wrote: "Cézanne [...] was influenced by me in Pontoise, and I by him. [...] By Jove, we were inseparable! But what is certain is that each of us retained the only thing that matters, "his sense of feeling"... this is easy enough to demonstrate..." (letter to his son Lucien, November 22, 1895). The exhibition in hand is a realisation of this statement. It aims to examine, in terms of their art, the relationship between Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Pissarro over twenty years of mutual influence and friendship, from the beginning of their careers up to the mid-1880s.
Portraits, still-lives and landscapes by both artists are brought together to demonstrate the similarity of their vision in 1875. Later, Cézanne reinterpreted some of Pissarro's earlier compositions and took up some of his elder's previously adopted view points. The hanging of their works together highlights the "kinship" in their approach to subjects, which was highly significant in perpetuating the enduring links that united the two artists.
One day in 1863, Frédéric Bazille was on his way to the studio he shared with Renoir in Batignolles. He was accompanied by two other painters whose acquaintance he had just made. On entering the studio, Bazille called out to Renoir: "I have brought along two fine recruits!". Certainly he did not know then how true these words would prove to be, for these "fine recruits" were none other than Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro. From that day on, they would share the adventure of those artists who would become the "Impressionists", and they would take part in the group's first exhibition in 1874, at the studio of the photographer Nadar.
Cézanne and Pissarro had first met two years previously, at the Académie de Charles Suisse in Paris. Soon a close bond of friendship and collaboration developed between the two artists. Cézanne found in Pissarro the same rejection of tradition and academic training which characterised his own work. He later wrote about his friend: "He had the good fortune to be born in the West Indies, where he learned how to draw without masters". Pissarro, too, immediately recognised Cézanne's genius. In a letter to his son Lucien, he recalled: "It was such an inspiration when in 1861, Oller and I went to see Cézanne at the Académie Suisse. That strange Provençal was painting academic studies that were the laughing stock of all those sterile students in the school…". For more than twenty years, until 1885, Cézanne and Pissarro were to work and experiment together, forming a genuine "pair" within the Impressionist group.
The exhibition opens with self-portraits and portraits they made of each other. Pissarro, nine years older than Cézanne, is already shown as a bearded patriarch. Cézanne's appearance is wilder and more tormented. Each portrayed the other using a variety of techniques: painting, drawing or engraving. Their portraits and self-portraits, especially those depicting Cézanne, reflect their desire to reject classical attitudes and poses. The poses they adopt reveal their commitment to be "serious workers" as Cézanne put it. To him, this expression meant an artist should work hard but remain free to follow his own path without compromise.
Attracted by the "silent world", Cézanne and Pissarro turned their attention to still life painting, a genre from which neo-classicist and romantic painters had turned away. Following such artists as Courbet, Fantin-Latour and Manet, Cézanne and Pissarro developed this theme. For certain works executed before 1870, they used the palette knife, a technique inherited from Courbet, where thick layers of paint gave the painting an irregular surface, far removed from the smooth finish customary at the time.
During the 1870s, they produced floral compositions, and experimented with the contrasts in volume and form in compositions with fruit and other objects. One can see evidence in Cézanne's still life paintings of a move towards the spirit of Impressionist painting, which Pissarro had already adopted a few years earlier. His brushstrokes were already becoming lighter and more fragmented. No doubt Pissarro's influence was not unrelated to this evolution, his talent as a teacher being widely noted. Mary Cassatt wrote of him that "he would have taught stones how to paint". The collaboration which existed between the two painters' works may be seen in certain details in these still life paintings. Cézanne thus portrayed a landscape by Pissarro, Rue de Gisors, maison du père Galien (Gisors Street, Father Galien's House), in the background of his Nature morte à la soupière (Still Life with Soup Tureen). The same painting appeared again in the background of the Portrait of Cézanne which Pissarro painted in 1874. This link between three different paintings is a perfect illustration of the dialogue established between the two artists in all genres from portraits to landscapes and still life.