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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Gauguin, Cezanne, and Matisse only in Philadelphia

Aristide Maillol, The Three Nymphs, 1930-38, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./Patricia Leslie

An exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the only place in the U.S. to see “Arcadia” or “earthly paradise” where, depending upon your mood and acceptance of the surroundings, you may enjoy a stroll through galleries and likely benefit from the emotionally medicinal effects of the exhibition, Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia.

(A suggested sub-title for the display is “Naked People in the Woods” which, indeed, mirrors titles of two of the paintings, Three Nudes in the Forest by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Nude in a Wood by Henri Matisse.)

On a press tour, the museum’s senior curator of European painting before 1900, Joseph J. Rishel, teasingly said, for reasons of modesty, he could not tell his audience about certain drawings by Henri Matisse, and he pointed to a wall several feet away where Matisse hung. (By Jove, let’s go take a look! Unfortunately, I was unable to locate any suggestive renderings.) 

Senior Curator of European Painting before 1900, Joseph J. Rishel, talks about Nicholas Konstantinovich Roerich's Our Forefathers, c. 1911, Philadelphia Museum of Art/Patricia Leslie

Whatever viewers may find, Philadelphia hosts another blockbuster show which runs through September 3, 2012.

Henri Rousseau, Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, Paul Signac, Nicholas Poussin, Georges Seurat and Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova of Russia, who may be the only female representative, are some of the 27 artists featured in the display of 60 works organized by PMOA from collections around the world.

Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova, Boys Bathing, c. 1910, Museum Wiesbaden, Germany

The exhibition focuses on three large paintings hung together in one gallery which form “the very foundations of modern art,” according to the museum:   Paul Cezanne’s The Large Bathers (1906), Paul Gauguin’s Where Do We Come From? What are We? Where Are We Going? (1897-98) (Question: Do you ask yourself this every day?), and Matisse’s Bathers by a River (1909-17).

According to Curator Rishel, before World War I artists were “fueled by high optimism and sometimes profound unease,” and they “looked inward and toward each other to give creative shape to the common fate of the human condition.”

It is probable that both Cezanne and Matisse saw and/or heard about Gauguin’s Where? What? Where? which may have influenced their own choices for an “earthly paradise.”

It was a time of vast social and technological changes (sound familiar?) and the artists desired a return to a saintly, more simplistic state, a land of make-believe where humans harmonized with nature in Eden-like settings. No rush, no horns, no mean people snapping at you, but tranquility and serenity. Who doesn’t need such an escape? 

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Goatherd of Terni, c. 1871, Philadelphia Museum of Art

This magical, mystery tour of beautiful bodies in peaceful landscapes is a certain prescription for malady.

Henri Edmond Cross, Study for "Faun," 1905-06, Musee de Grenoble, France

Robert Delaunay, The City of Paris, 1910-12, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris

Combine a trip to the exhibit with visits to Philadelphia’s newly re-opened Rodin Museum, the new Barnes, and the historic Eastern State Penitentiary, all within walking distance of the PMOA.

And a good place to eat right in the neighborhood is the London Grill at 2301 Fairmount Avenue. It was every bit as good as Fodor's described, with delicious hamburgers and an arugula salad with tomatoes (sub for fries) to die for. Plus homemade beer! What a ride. Right on the way to the prison.

A trip by Amtrak from Washington to Philly is usually always stress-free and economical. And you can take your food, your luggage, your beverages, and bypass the TSA wardens.

Let us go then, you and I, and return to the forest unashamed and welcoming of nature and its bounty, and forget the turmoil which surrounds us daily in the sea of madness.

What:  Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse:  Visions of Arcadia

When:  Now through September 3, 2012 (open on Labor Day), Tuesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and open late on some Friday nights

Where:  Philadelphia Museum of Art, the landmark on the hill at 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Admission (includes audio tour): $25 (adults), $23 (seniors), $20 (students, 13 - 18), $14 (children, 5 – 12), free for children under age 5.  Discounts and private tours are available.  Check here.

For more information: 215-763-8100 and

Aristide Maillol, The Three Nymphs, 1930-38, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./Patricia Leslie

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