Saturday, March 19, 2011
Cézanne at the Met
We spent a happy hour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this afternoon in the company of Cézanne's Card Players. It's a show built round a single painting except that it's not: it's an elaborate study of the painting in the context of a tradition and a career. You get to see a history of card-playing and of its companion, smoking; you get to see some of Cézanne's many ventures into the same or closely related subjects. You get to reflect on (though this may not have been a primary purpose) some of the resonances between Cézanne and more-or-less contemporaries like Van Gogh and Modigliani. In the end you get to understand the painting as an episode in a continuing conversation and you get a vivid insight (one of the clearest I've ever enjoyed) into what makes Cézanne so much himself. The show is a delight on its own terms but I love the concept. I'd cheerfully go out of my way for any show that undertook to treat so interesting a work such a spirit of tactful inquiry.