Yes, it was a wonderful double visit. First, the exhibition Picasso Cézanne at the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence, and then on to the Château de Vauvenargues where Picasso lived from 1959 to 1961 and installed his personal collection and his studio.
Picasso Cézanne brings together a superb collection of works from museums around the world. It seems to me that the show opens up a very interesting debate, because I think it is an excellent example of an exhibition intended to attract what is called ‘the general public’ and perhaps less likely to appeal to the experts. Let me make it quite clear here that I am no expert on Picasso’s work. My field of “expertise” is communication and the Internet. But after two and a half years working at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, we can perhaps assume that my knowledge of Picasso is a little more extensive than that of the average member of the public, and I think this is explains the two sets of impressions I brought away from my visit to the exhibition Picasso Cézanne.
The first and certainly the most valuable thing for me was being able to enjoy at first hand a number of works by Picasso that I had only seen before in reproduction, together with some rare treasures from private collections that are being shown in public for the first time. I am an enthusiastic supporter of all that technology is doing to make knowledge more readily available, and part of my job is to plan virtual tours of the Museu Picasso collection and specific highlights, but I have to say that nothing comes close to direct observation of the work itself: the intensity of the colours, the texture, the delicacy of line, the thickness of the brushstrokes, the nuances, the size, the depth, the perspective, the volume, and the emotional value—a little reverential or ‘fetishist’, perhaps—of standing in front of the original canvas work by the artist’s hands… these things are incomparable.
The entrance to the Musée Granet: still no queues early in the morning but plenty of visitors in the rooms.
In this exhibition there are plenty of real gems to admire. And not only Picassos, although most of the 114 works are by him. The 21 Cézanne’s, although you would’ve expected a greater number of works, are just as much of a treat for the senses. The way the hanging of the pictures creates a dialogue between the two artists is also a unique pleasure. And I should add here, as part of this first set of enthusiastically positive responses, that seeing well-known works from ‘our’ museum such as Harlequin, for example, ceded on loan for the exhibition, next to other Picassos and in dialogue with works by Cézanne, made the experience even richer for me.
As for the second set of impressions, I would say that the basic premise, the tracing of Cézanne’s influence on Picasso, could have been developed a little more fully. I found the layout adopted rather obvious, with the works grouped on the basis of their thematic or figurative content: portraits of smokers, seated women, still-lifes, the artist’s children, still-lifes with skull, etc. As these are all truly great pictures, it’s impossible to feel disappointed, but a bit more conceptual depth would have made the show even better. As I read in a recent article in Museums Journal, the most important thing about a good exhibition, even more than the quality of the works, is having a research project that underpins it: ‘The idea is not something we already know, that we’re trying to disseminate: the core of a good exhibition is a project of investigation’ and ‘Putting research into the public domain is an important function that the exhibition can play [in order to] tell a good story’ (Museums Journal, No. 24, May 2009).
Let me single out for special praise the communication materials accompanying the show, all three very effective: the audio guide (at last, an audio guide that aims to interpret, rather than be merely descriptive or historical!); the abundantly illustrated 40-page booklet, which for many visitors is an excellent alternative to buying the catalogue, and a good leaflet for children with ideas to stimulate their observation skills.
And the morning was not yet over: to round it off, a visit to the impressive château. This was indeed a very special chance to make the most of the exceptional decision to open it to the public for several months. The approach to the château offers a splendid view of Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire. Once inside, it’s a privilege to tour the series of rooms that the family has preserved just as Picasso left them, and to see how surprisingly austere they are. The visit takes in the artist’s studio, with the brushes and pots of paint he used, the dining room with the mandolin that appears in so many of the still-lifes, his bedroom, and the bathroom with its mural of vegetable motifs and a faun. The tour concludes with an audio-visual of Picasso at Vauvenargues, filmed by Jacqueline herself.
Arriving at the château, with the view seen on the walk from the navette to the main door. Mont Sainte-Victoire is barely visible through the morning haze.
Rear view of the Château de Vauvenargues. In the background, Mont Sainte-Victoire
I’m not going to reveal any more details of the visit: it would be like giving away the plot of a movie, and I don’t to spoil the sense of discovery that awaits you there (booking essential).
Many thanks, Catherine Hutin, for opening the doors of the château.