This exhibition at the Ashmolean, Oxford, is drawn from the collection of Henry and Rose Pearlman. Henry, a successful New York business man, bought his first painting, a landscape by Soutine, in 1945 and subsequently developed a passion for post impressionist and modernist art. All the works are available to see at the excellent Pearlman Foundation website.
On entering the exhibition, you are greeted by a large colourful portrait in oils of Henry by Kokoschka. I like Kokoschka’s work very much because of his use of colours and how he finds edges, highlighting them with unexpected colours. This portrait is unusual, in that the sitter is beaming at you in a very jolly manner, inviting you to come on in and enjoy his art. It is a very personal and engaging portrait and I can’t help but feel that I would have liked Henry very much. The warm inclusive nature of the exhibition is reinforced by some walls being full scale photographs of the works hanging in the Pearlman home and office, so that you really feel you are being invited into a private space to see them.
His collection included works by Cezanne, Modigliani, Soutine, Degas, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Pissaro, Courbet, Lipchitz, Toulouse-Lautrec, Sisley and others, many of which are included in this exhibition.
The first room is dedicated to Cezanne studies. I find these more interesting in many ways than his finished paintings. I like the way you can see him exploring a subject in pencil and then tone by building up thin watercolour glazes in just three or four colours. Sometimes a object seems to shimmer or move as he has searched around for the precise line he wants, as in Still Life with Carafe, Bottle and Fruit. This room included my other two favourite studies: Study of a Skull and Three Pears.
I made very quick sketches of these to understand and appreciate them better. These are very small, about 3″ x 4″ and are only about 3 minutes each.
The next room was devoted to large scale works by Post Impressionists and the stand out work here was Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire. The lines at the peak of the mount are similar the those in the sketches and I wonder whether this is pentimenti or Cezanne representing the shimmer in the summer atmosphere.
The final room included, amongst other works, some great sculpture by Modigiani and Lipchitz and some landscapes by Soutine. I found these difficult and although I like the impasto technique and the viewpoint if the one landscape, I didn’t feel engaged with them. The Foundation website includes an interesting insight into Kokoschka’s reaction to them.
The Foundation quotes:
“As a collector, Henry Pearlman was guided by his enjoyment. He remained true to his discovery that art is meant to be lived with, and that to those who give it their love it returns a full measure of joy.”
– John Rewald, 1959
and I found this a joyous and intimate exhibition. If I could take away a single piece to live with, Cezanne’s study ‘Three Pears’ would give me constant, quiet pleasure.