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Pioneering Modern Painting: Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro at MoMA

- In the Galleries and Museums

The Museum of Modern Art
The New MoMA: Part II of a Series
(See Part I of a Series)
11 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019

Press: Matt Montgomery

Pioneering Modern Painting:
Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro 1865-1885

(Cézanne Bio)
(Pissarro Bio)
(Visit the Exhibition)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 12, 2005

On the final afternoon of this magnificent exhibition at MoMA, with 80 paintings and 80 drawings, well conceived because of the personal and professional relationship between these two artists, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro, I was struck with the stark similarities of motifs, such as still life, floral bouquets, lake reflections, self-portraits and portraits of each other, rooftops, valleys, and country paths. The crowd that afternoon was typically MoMA, edgy and intense. This was a final opportunity to enjoy such a self-instructive experience, the comparisons and differences between two giants in the world of French Impressionism.

I found 1873 and 1874 paintings of floral bouquets more deeply textured by Cézanne, and more evocative of fragrance and elegance by Pissarro. A sunlit valley had broader brushstrokes by Cézanne and enhanced lushness by Pissarro. An 1894 forest scene, by Cézanne, seemed painted in early modern expressionist style, with dark, angular lines. To this observer, Cézanne awakened the mind, while Pissarro awakened the senses.

Two 1874 paintings, one a house near Pontoise and the other a vegetable still life, found Pissarro preferring darker browns, with Cézanne preferring vivid sunlight. An 1873 Pissarro landscape, subdued with browns and soft outlines, was contrasted with Cézanne’s pastel still life, similar but bolder. They sketched each other wearing hats, while they experimented with and borrowed each other’s signature styles, such as Cézanne’s geometric roofs and Pissarro’s melting horizons.

Pissarro began to add features of pointillism, and Cézanne began to add features of surrealism. And, sometimes Cézanne’s paintings took on the effect of flat water painting, and sometimes Pissarro’s paintings took on the effect of textured sand or even collage. The later Pissarro landscapes seemed to take on the vivid brushstrokes so apparent in the work of Cézanne, while Cézanne was already moving into black/white/grey chiaroscuro techniques. Cézanne’s oeuvres seemed intrinsically more intense, structured, outlined, and centered, while Pissarro’s seemed romantic, optimistic, and sensual. Cézanne’s work was intriguing. Pissarro’s was inviting.

Yet, throughout this rare retrospective of reunited works, I could not help thinking that these two renowned artists were, in some way, reunited as well, as their work was so reflective of their personalities and mutual interest. It’s a shame that so much of Camille Pissarro’s oeuvres (1400 or more) were destroyed during the Franco-Prussian War, as he might have been so much more prominent in the mainstream Impressionist movement with the full collection on display. The fact that he was not deterred and kept painting is to his credit and to the credit of his supportive colleagues, such as Paul Cézanne.

Kudos to MoMA for this insightful exhibition.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at