Cézanne Portraits

The National Portrait Gallery has this year pretty much nailed the history of depicting the human form in post-medieval Western Europe thanks to its summer show, The Encounter, featuring paintings and drawings by the likes of Leonardo, Holbein, Dürer and Rembrandt, and the spring exhibition of amazing portraits by the great 20th century British colourist Howard Hodgkin. Now curators have supplied the missing link between traditionalism and modernism with 50+ paintings by Paul Cézanne – about a third of his lifetime output of portraits – which reveal how he moved away from producing recognisable likenesses and opened to door to Picasso’s revolutionary cubist approach. It’s a stunning selection, summed up by three pictures that mark the beginning and end of his career: an extraordinarily sinister red-tinged self-portrait in his early 20s and one showing him in a jaunty beret painted just before his death 40 years later. The latter hangs next to a gorgeous painting of Cézanne’s Provençal gardener who sits bathed in Mediterranean sunshine – in stark contrast to the gloomy browns, blacks and grey that dominates the other works. The pictures in between this triad spotlight subtle but inexorable development of Cézanne’s genius and explain precisely why he is so revered by both public and artists. A fabulous exhibition.

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