Cezanne to Picasso at the Art Institute of Chicago - Review

Fishing in Spring The Pont de Clichy (Asnieres) 1887, Vincent Van Gogh 1853-1890

Recently I met some friends for lunch near the Art Institute of Chicago. Because it is said of the current exhibition, 'Cezanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde' that, 'Never have all the riches of the works that passed through Vollard's hands been brought together in such number and quality', I decided this was a great time to go. Having been a member of the Art Institute of Chicago for many years I am aware of the need to arrange for tickets and reserve space and time in advance. So imagine my delight when I walked up to the information desk and was told, I can just walk in to see the exhibit. In addition, I was told that I could go as many times as I like and bring friends! I particularly appreciated that from 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. weekdays and 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. weekends are set aside for members only. Since the exhibit runs through May 12th, I expect to return many times.

Ambroise Vollard 1899, Paul Cezanne (French 1839 - 1906) and photo

This exhibition opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in September and is considered to be a window into the history of modernism, an exhibition of rare excellence and the profile of a fascinating figure. Nearly 250 works that passed through the hands of Ambroise Vollard, Parisian art dealer are featured and in addition to the paintings, there are works in a variety of media such as limited-edition artists' books, prints, sculpture and ceramics that Vollard encouraged and commissioned including both landmark and little-known works. Recognized as the most significant dealer, collector, and patron of the Postimpressionist era, and impacting the history of modern art, he also had a shrewd business sense. The exhibit draws on new research into Vollard's marketing strategies, especially focusing on artists he gave exhibitions to, such as Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso.

The Two Saltimbanques (Harlequin and his companion) 1901, Pablo Picasso (Spanish 1881-1973)

I was absolutely fascinated by Vollard. What would art be like without him, I wondered. He began life in a French colony in the Indian Ocean and arrived in Paris at age 21 to study law. He left rather soon and within a few years he was dealing paintings out of his dining room. His shrewd purchases of Manet's drawings and unfinished paintings launched Vollard into the Impressionist circle and when his gallery become more and more successful, he moved to lavish spaces that eventually became a wildly successful business and an artistic hub of 'fin-de-siecle' Paris. It was a place where artists and collectors met informally, enjoyed Vollard's home-cooked meals, and traded their works for those of their friends and colleagues.

Armond Roulin 1888, Vincent Van Gogh (Dutch 1853-1890)

I was surprised and intrigued to learn of several loans sold by Vollard to other artists that hold particular significance in the history of modernism. Cezanne acquired 'Three Bathers' by Matisse (which was very inspirational to him), 'Bathers' and 'The Negro Scipion' by Monet and the 'Battle of Love' by Renoir and Picasso purchased 'The Representatives of Foreign Powers Coming to Greet the Republic as a Sign of Peace' by Rousseau. Vollard was important in discovering artists, and in helping artists to discover other artists. He not only put modern art on the map, but was also a catalyst for its creation.

Sellf Portrait with Hat 1893- 94, Paul Gauguin (French 1848-1903

Vollard was an enigmatic figure throughout his career. On one hand, he was notoriously rude to potential patrons, keeping them waiting for hours before showing works or refusing to admit he had paintings by a particular artist when they were in plain view. He napped and dozed constantly and practiced a relaxed form of bookkeeping that the curators of this exhibition are the first to shed light on.

Basket of Apples 1893, Paul Cezanne (French 1839-1906)

On the other hand, he was a savior to many artists who relied on him to keep their works in circulation or support them with stipends. His relationship with Gauguin was one of mutual mistrust but Gauguin benefited anyway. He became close to Cezanne whose work he displayed in Paris after a 20 year absence. Vollard gambled on him, acquiring 150 canvases from Cezanne's son, Paul, which established the careers of both artist and dealer. Other artists whose life he was a part of, include: Matisse, Picasso (when he was 19), and Van Gogh. He produced Van Gogh's largest exhibit. Many of these and other artists painted him with his cat, Ambroise. He was a multimillionaire who shaped the history of modern art when he died in 1939 somewhat suspiciously.

Ambroise Vollard with his cat 1924, Pierre Bonnard

Another unusual part of the exhibition was a rare movie clip showing Vollard assisting Cezanne who was so crippled from arthritis that he needed help singing his name.

Whether you live in the Chicago area or are visiting, this exhibition is a must see experience and I certainly intend to return.

The exhibition was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NewYork, the Musee d'Orsay, Paris, and the Reunion des Musees Nationaux, Paris.

An indemnity for this exhibition has been granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The Art Institute of Chicago is a museum in Chicago's Grant Park, located across from Millennium Park. Dated tickets to Cezanne to Picasso are required, and advance tickets are strongly recommended. Tickets are available by calling 312-930-4040 or purchasing them at the museum: $15 (Monday-Wednesday visits ), and $18 (Thursday-Sunday visits), also include general admission to the museum. You can also contact us at: http://www.artic.edu/aic

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