Sarah Mayhew-Craddock is excited by the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see works by impressionist Paul Cézanne at the Ashmolean
Could art in Oxford get any more exciting than it is at the moment?
From the likes of Dancin’ Oxford’s interactive Digital Prisoners installation last week in Bonn Square, to the contemporary music exhibitions and events for the annual Audiograft festival taking place this week and next, the programme of artistic interventions and exhibitions feels as though it’s getting stronger at every turn.
Then comes the announcement that Modern Art Oxford is in the process of programming off-site work that will take to the streets, skies and other interesting alternative venues around the city when the building closes for refurbishment during 2016.
Then, blowing off any last remaining cobwebs and tossing away any pre-conceived ideas about twin-sets and tweed, the Ashmolean returns with another LiveFriday tomorrow in a special collaboration with Oxford Brookes University as it welcomes Wisdom, Wonders and Widgets (and visitors) through the doors in celebration of 150 years since Oxford Brookes was established as the Oxford School of Art.
It’s interesting to think about the way in which the art scene in Oxford has grown, and is now really beginning to blossom, since 1865 when the Oxford School of Art occupied a single room at the Taylorian Institute, beside the Ashmolean Museum.
Funny to think that at some point, about 50 years later, an artist found himself gazing out of his studio window in the south of France drinking in the bright, crisp colours that the light around Aix-en-Provence is famous for, pondering upon his beloved Provençal peak, Mont Sainte-Victoire that punctuated the skyline outside.
This artist was Paul Cézanne, described by Matisse and Picasso as “the father of us all.”
Cézanne has been said to form the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and the early 20th century’s new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism. It seems perfect then, that just as Oxford Brookes is reflecting upon how far they have come over the past 150 years, so too are we surrounded by experimental art forms, and one of the most seminal exhibitions that Oxford has ever seen, in the shape of Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art from the Pearlman Collection at the Ashmolean.
The exhibition, opening today, features 50 works by 19 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masters that form part of a 20th century private collection belonging to the Henry and Rose Pearlman Collection (on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey).
Among works by Gustave Courbet and Jacques Lipchitz is an outstanding group of paintings and watercolours by Cézanne, an artist perhaps as celebrated as Pelé is in football or Madonna is in music.
At the pulsating heart of this colourful collection is 24 works by Cézanne: six oils; two drawings; and 16 watercolours, which constitute one of the finest and best-preserved groups of Cézanne watercolours in the world and this is the first time that these works have gone on display in Europe!
Colin Harrison, Senior Curator of European Art at the Ashmolean, said: “Although individual works have occasionally been included in monographic exhibitions, this is the first time this most individual collection has been exhibited in Europe.
“Apart from the amazing paintings and watercolours by Cézanne, it includes wonderful works by artists little known in England, notably Chaïm Soutine, who was a particular favourite of the Pearlmans.”
Showcasing Cézanne’s unique mixture of freedom and intensity the works in this show span the whole of his career from the 1870s up to the monumental Still Life with Carafe, Bottle, and Fruit made shortly before his death in 1906.
At £9 or £7 (concessions) per ticket, entry isn’t cheap, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it’s on your doorstep, it’ll make you think about modern art – when it began, and what it is – and it’ll stand you in good stead for all the other exciting experiments in contemporary art that are about to encompass Oxford – everything was revolutionary once upon a time.
Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art from the Pearlman Collection runs from today until June 22 at the Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont Street, Oxford.