The paintings of Paul Cézanne has been looked at from virtually every imaginable angle over more than a century since his death in 1906. So it’s easy to understand Dr. Benedict Leca’s trepidation at putting together yet another exhibition of the artist’s work.
“Every time I sit down to write about Cezanne I’m terrified,” said Leca, director of curatorial affairs at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario) during a preview at the Barnes Foundation last week. “But I stare at the screen and all of a sudden it’s like a Ouija board. It happens every time. There’s a reason why all of these artists in the 19th century zeroed in on Cezanne. He’s got some kind of mojo that’s very hard to explain.”
“The World is an Apple,” the new exhibition that opens at the Barnes on Sunday, gathers 21 paintings to explore Cézanne’s still lifes, which Leca called “the last frontier of Cézanne studies.” The show is a perfect fit for the Barnes, which has 69 of Cézanne’s paintings in its own permanent collection. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Barnes has added 14 new recordings to their audio guide specifically focused on Cézanne, so that visitors can now hear information about 20 of the artist’s works on display.
“We’ve always wanted the Roberts Gallery to provide opportunities for us to complement or illuminate the permanent collection,” said Judith Dolkart, the Barnes’ chief curator. “By focusing on a core artist in the collection we’re able to provide our visitors with a little more insight into his process and ambitions. And experientially it’s a little bit different. The gallery is full of stacked paintings, and I think this provides a different experience to focus on individual works very closely. I do hope that people will come away with a sense of Cezanne’s process and understand him a little bit better.”
Visitors to the gallery are greeted with Cézanne’s declaration that he wanted to “astonish Paris with an apple,” and a stroll through the gallery exemplifies his success with a variety of fruit, pitchers and, later, a few human skulls. “I think we have this idea that still lifes are static objects with a fixed meaning, deliberately arranged,” Leca said. “Yet Cézanne activates these static objects and makes these incredible imaginative leaps — and he wants you to make those leaps too.”
The World is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne June 22-Sept. 22 The Barnes Foundation 2025 Ben Franklin Pkwy. $14-$29, 215-278-7000 www.barnesfoundation.org