Van Gogh, Cezanne and Other European Masterpieces Come to the Vancouver Art Gallery

Vincent van Gogh Tarascon Stagecoach, 1888 (La diligence de Tarascon) oil on canvas The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum

Vincent van Gogh, Tarascon Stagecoach, 1888, (La diligence de Tarascon), oil on canvas
The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum

The van Gogh hanging in the Vancouver Art Gallery shows an ordinary stagecoach set along an otherwise barren street. It’s a commonplace scene (or at least it was in 1888 when it was painted). But in the swirling lines of the paintbrush and in the vivid contrast between ochre walls, blue sky and red coach, there’s the unmistakeable signature of a genius.

Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, Manet and other European masters are currently on display as part of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Cezanne and the Modern exhibition, which opened Feb. 14. It’s a rare treat to see one or two European “masterpieces” hanging on the walls of the gallery; to see so many in one exhibition is an opportunity not to be missed.

The paintings are drawn from the legendary Pearlman Collection, normally housed in the Princeton University Art Museum. The heart of the exhibition is 24 oil and watercolour paintings by Paul Cezanne, the 19th-century French painter who laid the foundations for the radical art experiments of the 20th century.  In his masterwork, Mont Sainte-Victoire, painted near the end of his life, we see the beginnings of cubism and more abstract forms. An otherwise standard landscape scene is broken up into geometric chunks of color: shards of green, blue and violet climbing to a mountain summit.

Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire (La Montagne Sainte-Victoire), c. 1904–06 oil on canvas The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum

Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire (La Montagne Sainte-Victoire), c. 1904–06, oil on canvas
The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum

Meanwhile, paintings by Edgar Degas, the 19th-century French artist sometimes credited as a founder of Impressionism, show a kind of gritty realism, informed by the new technology of photography. In his legendary work After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself, we see a vision of the female body that is anything but idealized or even flattering. The woman is bent forward awkwardly, with her back to the viewer. Her surroundings are humble. There is something distinctly unseemly – even voyeuristic – about the entire scene: a candid snapshot captured secretly through the keyhole.

Edgar Degas, After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself, c. 1890s The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum

Edgar Degas, After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself, c. 1890s
The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum

In total, the Cezanne and the Modern exhibition comprises fifty works. Apart from masterpieces by Cezanne, Degas and van Gogh, it features major paintings by Amedeo Modigliani, Camille Pissarro and Chaim Soutine, as well as sculptures by Paul Gauguin, Wilhelm Lembruck and Jacques Lipchitz. This is the first time in more than a half-century that the Pearlman Collection has been on display outside of its Princeton home, and this will be its only presentation in Canada.

Cezanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art from the Pearlman Collection is on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery from Feb. 14-May 18.

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