Visions Of Arcadia

Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse
Visions of Arcadia
Philadelphia Museum of Art
June 20- Sept 3, 2012

 "The dream of Arcadia, a mythic place of beauty and repose where humankind lives in harmony with nature, has held an enduring appeal for artists since antiquity. With its promise of calm, simplicity, and order, it has served as both an inspiration—the sought for, but never fulfilled ideal of a paradise here on earth—and as an image of refuge, a place that is distant and seemingly protected from the vicissitudes of life. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time of sweeping and often disruptive social, technological, and intellectual change, this dream found a powerful new currency and once again spurred the imagination of a new generation of painters—many of whom played key roles in the development of modern art."

During the opening remarks for this exhibit, curator Joseph J. Rishel posed the question 'Why did three of the most radical avant-garde painters of the early 20th century explore an almost cliche subject matter such as Arcadia?'  Not only did these painters simply explore this subject, they did so on a monumental scale. This recently opened exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is based upon three enormous canvases, each an acknowledged masterpiece and each, in its own distinctive way, a powerful response to the Arcadian tradition: Paul Cézanne’s enigmatic The Large Bathers (1906; Philadelphia Museum of Art), the largest of this artist’s paintings in an idyllic landscape, which caused a sensation when it was first exhibited in 1907; Paul Gauguin’s Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897-98; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), which situates an Arcadian theme in the distant realm of Polynesia where this artist spent his last years and created some of his finest and most powerful works; and Henri Matisse’s Bathers by a River (1909-17; The Art Institute of Chicago), the mural-sized painting that was inspired in part by Cézanne (Matisse owned and revered a small painting by Cézanne on the theme of the bathers, citing it as one of the greatest influences in his artistic life) and represents one of the greatest achievements of Matisse’s career.

This exhibit attempts to show ways that artists look to the past using sometimes radical new methods to present endearing subjects and as a way to measure themselves against the work of previous masters. Arcadian themes had long dominated European painting, and the well chosen artists and works presented here reflect the ways in which a timeless theme is brought into modernist perspective. A refreshing take on old themes, if nothing else, this is a marvelous way to escape the summer heat.

Visions Of Arcadia installation view

Henri Matisse  Bathers by a River (1909-17)

Robert Delaunay  The City of Paris (1910-12)

Visions Of Arcadia installation view

Exhibit Details