London: Cezanne at the Tate Modern

At the end of November I had a week off work and decided to head to London for an impromptu day trip that, thanks to various family and friends, turned into a three-day stay.

It wasn’t my first trip to the capital of 2022 as earlier in the year, I’d circumnavigated the M25 on a Saturday afternoon (nightmare!), explored Epping Forest, and gotten to know Chingford and its restaurants and cafés (hello, Hokkaido Teppanyaki!).

But I hadn’t been to central London since before the pandemic and was itching to get back and revisit some of my favourite haunts.

In the run up to my trip, I spent some time browsing Time Out’s website, looking to see what was on in the capital’s museums and galleries.

Two exhibitions jumped out at me – Cezanne at the Tate Modern and Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt at the British Museum.

Now I don’t mind admitting I’m not the biggest fan of the Tate Modern. I have friends who adore it, but I find some of the exhibits a bit pretentious and can be wary of visiting. But the Cezanne exhibition looked right up my street.

I wasn’t very familiar with Cezanne’s art (aside from some of his famous still lives), so I was keen to find out more about the French Post-Impressionist.

The Gherkin, London

My train got into Paddington just before midday and keen to see as much of the Big Smoke as possible, I hopped on the tube to Bank for a short stroll through the City of London and along the banks of the Thames.

From the Bank of England, I made my way through the busy lunchtime crowds to the Gherkin (above), past my favourite City high-rise, the Lloyds of London building, into magical Leadenhall Market, which was decked out for Christmas (below).

Leadenhall Market at Christmas

When I lived in London, I often used to stroll around the City on a weekend and marvel at how deserted it was, it used to be a veritable ghost town.

But lunchtime on a Tuesday afternoon was a very different experience and the streets were thronging with people.

River Thames and Tower Bridge

From Leadenhall Market, I weaved my way through the crowds towards the monument that commemorates the Great Fire of London and crossed the Thames at London Bridge (above).

Passing Southwark Cathedral, I popped into Borough Market and somehow succeeded in avoiding being tempted by the many delicious foodstuffs for sale.

Scooting down past the Anchor pub, I then strolled along the Thames, passing the new Globe Theatre, to the Tate Modern, where I bought my timed ticket for the exhibition.

Grand Bouquet of Flowers by Cezanne

Born in Aix-en-Provence in 1839, Paul Cezanne is renowned for his Post-Impressionist style that drew heavily on realism and romanticism, influencing scores of subsequent artists.

Cezanne moved to Paris to study his craft in 1861 and later split his time between the French capital and his homeland Provence.

Although Cezanne wasn’t always a hit with critics during his lifetime, he was mentored by the Impressionist Camille Pissaro and his work was admired by a number of his contemporaries, including Renoir, Monet and Degas.

The exhibition at the Tate Modern is divided into 11 rooms, with the first half concentrating on Cezanne’s life and relationships, and the second looking at specific themes in his work.

The first few rooms feature self-portraits and portraits of his family and friends, alongside the more familiar still lives and a few paintings that touch on political themes.

I wasn’t at all familiar with Cezanne’s portraiture or his social commentary, so I found the initial rooms interesting as I was introduced to a completely different side to his work.

The exhibition continued in a room dedicated to Cezanne’s paintings of L’Estaque, a small village on the French coast near Marseille, where he frequently holidayed, and then moved on to look at the materials he used.

Still Life with Apples by Cezanne

The second half of the exhibition opens with an in-depth look at some of Cezanne’s still lives and then continues with a series of paintings depicting Mont-Sainte Victoire, a mountain close to Aix-en-Provence.

Mont Sainte-Victoire by Cezanne

Cezanne notably used small, short brushstrokes when he painted and this was clearly visible in a lot of his paintings, including the one of Mont-Sainte Victoire above.

I can’t paint to save my life, so I’m always interested in the different techniques artists use and am amazed at how they’re able to do what they do.

I really liked Cezanne’s technique. It seemed simple (although I’m sure it’s anything but) and gave a striking vivacity to his work.

Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) by Cezanne

The exhibition continued by exploring the theme of bathers in Cezanne’s work. Cezanne produced lots of paintings of bathers and spent years experimenting with the theme, changing the shapes and positions of the forms in his work.

Of all the rooms, this one probably surprised me the most as the paintings seemed so different to the work I was familiar with. I nevertheless liked the tone and slightly ethereal colour palette of Cezanne’s compositions.

The penultimate room in the exhibition featured a series of Cezanne’s paintings that had been owned by other artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Jasper Johns.

Three Skulls on a Patterned Carpet by Cezanne

The final room showcased paintings from the last years of Cezanne’s life. These works had a noticeably darker feel to them, such as Three Skulls on a Patterned Carpet (above), and it felt as though Cezanne was capturing his own mortality on canvas.

I really enjoyed the Cezanne exhibition. It was comprehensive and informative, and I came away with a far better understanding and appreciation of his art.

The only downside was that the exhibition was heaving with people, despite it being a random Tuesday afternoon in November and the visitor numbers being capped.

This made it quite difficult to see parts of the exhibition, unless you were prepared patiently to wait a while until people moved out of the way.

Gripe aside, the exhibition was well worth seeing and I was glad I’d made the effort to visit.


Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG

Until 12 March 2023

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