One of the largest collections of Cezanne paintings ever assembled has arrived in London, and filled a whole series of rooms at the Tate with his signature still lifes, landscapes, and nudes.

Cezanne is one of those artists about whom so much has been written and who died recently enough for people to write copiously about him from personal knowledge, that it can be difficult for an exhibition to say anything new.

So, here the Tate hasn’t tried to say too much that is new, but simply to fill as many rooms as they can with as many of his paintings as they can and simply say – here he is, look at him.

And it works.

From the opening room with a self-portrait and signature still life, ranging roughly thematically through rooms ranging from his family portraits, his landscapes, the still lifes, and yes, the nudes.

Do look for a landscape in the second room, the first to be shown in the Tate exactly a century ago, shortly after what was at the time, the Tate Gallery decided not to buy a Cezanne painting as he was deemed too modern. Now, a century later he’s in the Tate Modern, and people are asking if maybe he’s not modern enough.

Usefully, about a third of the paintings also have some interpretation where the Tate has asked contemporary artists to write short pieces about a painting, although those range from the informative to the “are you on drugs?” in what they write. Fortunately, most aim for informative.

Dotted around are insights into the man, with sketchbooks and letters. One sketchbook has been digitally scanned, so you can swipe through the book without needing white gloves to touch the original. A collection of his painting tools fills a narrow corridor and an explanation about how fussy he could be about his tools when ordering replacements.

What helps a lot are the explanatory cards that give insights into the struggles he faced breaking into the snobbish Paris art scene, and how he turned his back on them and headed to the countryside that is now lauded. How he refreshed the still life, a junior and unremarkable style of painting into something that’s now considered radical. He loved still life as he controlled the setting. No worries about human models fidgeting.

His nudes turn out to conceal a slightly shy character who disliked being in the same room as naked models, so many of the paintings are based on classical sculptures — and a side room delves into the art he borrowed.

Getting darker, a room fills with his later works, a seated farmer is expressive and carries the years of life on his painted shoulders. The exhibition ends with skulls.

As an exhibition it’s a winter blockbuster in the classic sense of the term, a huge collection of works by a famous artist brought together and put on display in a way that rarely happens more often than every couple of decades.

You might not know much about Cezanne, but read up on him online, then visit the exhibition, and get the emotional hit from seeing the paintings for yourself.

You’ll understand why so many other artists applaud Cezanne as one of the greats.

The EY exhibition Cezanne is at the Tate Modern until March 2023

Adult: £22 | Concession: £20 | Child (>12): £5 | National Art Pass: £11 | Members: Free

Booking is recommended from here, especially as dates are already selling out.

Tate members get unlimited entry to paid exhibitions for free, for an annual membership of £72 – details here.


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One comment
  1. Peter Salmon says:

    I managed to gain free entry to this by showing a Civil Service ID card. I think they also give free (discretionary) entrance to members of Blue Light services
    Members of the gallery (£110 PA) also get free entry and if you visit regularly this is well worth it.
    The problem with this gallery and other museums even out of school holidays is that there are nearly always school parties so it is sometimes worth phoning ahead.

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