The poetry in this post is not verse but visual rhyme.
One day, perusing the Metropolitan Museum of Art website, I happened upon a painting that looked familiar: Still Life with Cup, Jar, and Apples by Paul Cézanne, circa 1877. Where had I seen it? Not at the Met … but somewhere, in person. My memory led me soon enough to look through photos of Bruce’s artwork, and there it was. It is the framed still life in Bruce’s oil painting Still Life Within a Still Life.
Cézanne has been called the grandfather of modern art, and there have been several museum exhibitions during the past couple of years highlighting his legacy. This time last year, the groundbreaking show “Cézanne and Beyond” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art explored his impact on generations of artists. “Cézanne and American Modernism,” focusing on his impact on American artists, is currently on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art before traveling to the Phoenix Museum of Art. If you would like to know more about Cézanne’s innovations and see specific examples of how they were accepted and rejected in still lifes by other artists, visit my favorite art blog, Tyler Green’s Modern Art Notes. Green’s write-ups ‘Cézanne and Beyond’ in Philadelphia, ‘Cézanne and Beyond’ in Philadelphia, part two and ‘Cézanne and Beyond’ in Philadephia, part three are must-reads that had me thinking about this topic long before I discovered the Cézanne “Easter egg” in my father’s work.
Bruce readily acknowledges Cézanne as an inspiration, perhaps second only to Vincent van Gogh. In appropriating Cézanne’s still life, he modifies it by cropping the composition tight, exaggerating the gleam of the brightest apple and giving the picture a gilded frame. He acknowledges its influence; honors it by hanging it on his imagined wall; but departs immediately and purposely from its style.
Where the Cézanne is quiet, weighty, the MacGibeny is bright and tongue-in-cheek. (When originally asked the title of this painting, Bruce jokingly called it “a number of objects on a table.”) In contrast to the earthy, relatively realistic colors of the Cézanne, he uses jewel tones that are even more vivid in real life than in the photo, radiating from the small canvas.
Cézanne’s painting exploits the power of the diagonal, while Bruce works at right angles, which is unusual for him. He introduces his own modernist distortions: would a wall really be that color? The disproportionately large table dwarfs the objects on its surface. The still life on the table contains no fruit. The contours of the blue bottle undulate as if molded by hands that have held it.
The artist is inviting you into the magic of this room…and perhaps inviting you to join him in lifting one of the two glasses on the table in a toast to the master who so radically challenged tradition.
Still Life Within a Still Life
Oil and paper collage on canvas, 23.5″ x 20″
Still Life Within a Still Life (detail)
Artwork copyright 2010 Bruce MacGibeny. All rights reserved.
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