The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England presents Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art from the Henry and Rose Pearlman Collection, until June 22, 2014. Paul Cézanne, the French artist, is considered to be the father of art, so it’s no surprise that his work was beloved by Henry Pearlman, whose collection the exhibit is on loan from.
The acquisition of Cézanne and other avant-garde artists’ work in this collection is nearly as captivating as the art itself. After World War II, the New York City businessman, Henry Pearlman bid successfully on a dramatic landscape oil painting, Village Square by French painter, Chaïm Soutine at a New York auction house. To Pearlman, the colors – blue, yellow and golden – attracted him. After being the high bidder, he brought the painting to his country home and hung it over the mantel. He commented that when he came home after work, and saw the Soutine painting, he would get a feeling like “listening to a symphony … of a piece well-known and liked.”
After his initial fine art purchase, and admiring his painting over the mantel, Pearlman dedicated himself to avant-garde art. For the next 30 years, Henry Pearlman, who was not an art historian, merely driven by the “exhilaration” in the quest for his next pearl, acquired a noteworthy collection of art. It included Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, modern sculptures, paintings, and 50 art pieces by Cézanne. Most of these works are on view for the exhibit and in Europe for the first time.
At the heart of Perlman’s collection are 16 Post-Impressionist watercolors by Paul Cézanne, located in the first gallery of the Ashmolean Museum. Watercolors were used by the artist to experiment with configurations, and create “effects through transparent planes of color” and graphite strokes as seen in his Sous Bois (1890). Paul Cézanne also played with light and luminosity in order to intensify the impression of space and form. These watercolors had an impact on his approach to oils. His application of translucent color and smaller brushstrokes gave the watercolors, the “evanescent, sparkling beauty of a dragonfly swooping before your eyes.”
The second gallery highlights oil paintings, two of which are Paul Cézanne. His work, Mont Sainte-Victoire, located in Cézanne’s native Provence. It is one of many paintings on the mountain that was familiar to him, and was viewed from his studio, Les Lauves. The other oil on canvas, Cistern in the Park of Chateau Noir (1900), presents an abandoned 19th century mansion, situated on a hillside with a vista of Mont Saint-Victoire.
Other works on display include Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec that Perlman acquired as a trade for Henri Matisse’s 1917 Bathers by a River. In addition, the exhibit displays Manet, and Van Gogh’s Tarascon Stagecoach. “Luck plays a large part in building up a collection,” Henry Pearlman once said. Such is the case for his acquisition of Tarascon Stagecoach, a deal that he solidified in one-and-a-half hours. According to a letter Pearlman retrieved written by Van Gogh, his Tarascon Stagecoach was painted in a single afternoon.
Within the last gallery, visitors can study Soutine landscapes, including the original work that began Henry Perlman’s enduring search for modern art. In this room, there is also Edouard Manet, Amedeo Modigiliani’s Jean Cocteau portrait (1916-17) and Paul Gauguin’s Te Fare Amu (The House for Eating) or its literal Tahitian translation “House of Joy” according to Perlman. The polychrome woodcarving hung over the entranceway of the painter’s Marquesas Islands hut. Gauguin carved the panel in the style felt was the essential Tahitian cultural element.
In the midst of the splendid masterpieces from the Pearlman collection, is a portrait of Henry Pearlman that he had commissioned by painter, Oskar Kokoschka. It is appropriate that the businessman-cum-art collector’s portrait opens Oxford’s Ashmolean museum exhibit, because without the Pearlman collection, Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art exhibition could not be appreciated with a “full measure of joy” returned to the observer, as Henry Pearlman had intended.
By: Dawn Levesque