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10. How did the painting come to the US?

The fact that our painting was found, unrestored, in the hands of a Connecticut antique dealer virtually proves that its original buyer was an American.  But as the famous Cézanne scholar John Rewald wrote about the artist’s intersection with Americans:

While nothing is known about Cézanne’s only meeting with an American reporter (i.e James G. Huneker, who claims to have met Cézanne in Aix in 1901), equally little has come to light about the fashion in which the first American collectors bought his pictures. There exist practically no records as to when they acquired what from whom. Most of his pictures were probably purchased from Vollard, who, after 1895, had become the artist’s exclusive dealer, although, by the turn of the century, the Bernheim-Jeunes also handled his works, frequently in partnership with Vollard… (Vollard’s) account books – or at least those that have survived – yield very little information.[1]

Vollard’s records from the period of his Cézanne exhibitions (1895-1899) are preserved in two ledgers:  a “Notebook” dating from January 1896 to April 1899, and a “Stockbook (A)” dating from mid-1899 to 1904.[2] Rewald describes Vollard’s book-keeping in the Notebook as “mysterious and frustrating,” since, while listing transactions, he usually wrote down only the last name of the purchaser, the name of the artist (Cézanne), followed by the price paid.  Only rarely did he describe the painting, making it impossible to know what painting was sold in any sale.  As for the later “Stockbook A,” this preserves an itemized list of all of Vollard’s inventory remaining from the latter half of 1899.  Since our painting cannot be identified in the Notebook and does not appear in the Stockbook A and is (apparently) absent from all future records, we can conclude that it was bought by an American at Vollard’s sometime before early 1899.  This person would then have carried it aboard a steamship to the States, where it disappeared – probably henceforth hung or stored in a private house, hidden from public view.

Before Vollard’s exhibitions, Cézanne was unknown to Americans and only barely known to the French public.[3]  After Vollard’s exhibitions, Cézanne suddenly found himself much talked about in Paris circles.  “Neglect was now succeeded by curiosity which, little by little, gave way to genuine interest. While many skeptics and scornful antagonists remained, there was also an increasing group of enthusiastic admirers.”[4]  Now a select group of wealthy collectors – American, French, Dutch, and Russian – began avidly buying his pictures, competing with each other and driving up prices.  His rise from obscurity to fame was succinctly summarized by Leo Stein (Gertrude’s brother and fellow art collector) in 1907 (one year after the artist’s death, and after his one-man retrospective show that year at the Salon d’Automne[5]): “Hitherto Cézanne had been important only for the few; he was about to become important for everybody. At the autumn salon at 1905 people laughed themselves into hysterics before his pictures, in 1906 they were respectful, and in 1907 they were reverent. Cézanne had become the man of the moment.”[6]  By the 1913 Armory Show in New York, Cézanne for many people, and many Americans, had become nothing less than a founder of modern art.[7]

The Nantucket painting seems to be an artifact of the very earliest phase of Cézanne’s public exposure, the period between 1895 and 1898, when dressed in its plain frame, it would have been bought for relatively little money at Vollard’s gallery by an unnamed American tourist, perhaps with no more interest than in taking back home a souvenir of his (or her) visit to the city – a painting by an artist of whom, at that moment, there was much chatter among the cognoscenti.  Whoever the buyer was, he or she seems to have been unaware of the artist’s subsequent beatification, of his elevation between 1900 and 1913 from obscurity to the first rank among modern artists, and of the enormous prices his works began to bring.  By the 1910’s only millionaires could afford to purchase his pictures.  This painting, however, seems to have been carried to the U.S. before 1900, where it was probably hung in a private house (or was later placed, forgotten, in an attic). There it would seem to have languished for most of the twentieth century, and being unsigned, its artist was forgotten.

 

[1] John Rewald, Cézanne and America: Dealers, Collectors, Artists, and Critics: 1891-1921. Princeton: 1989, p. 44.
[2] Rewald 1989, pp. 44-49.
[2] https://www.cezannecatalogue.com/exhibitions/entry.php?id=52
[3] Rewald 1989, p. 14.
[4] Rewald 1989, 19.
[5] “In October 1907, one year after Paul Cézanne’s death, the Salon d’Automne presented a memorial exhibition of the artist’s work, featuring 56 of his paintings and watercolors. This survey has rightly come to be seen as a watershed moment in the history of modern art…”(A. Borchardt-Hume, Gloria Groom, Caitlin Haskell, and Natalia Sidlina in Cézanne [Chicago Art Institute 2022], p. 17).
[6] Rewald 1989, p. 112.
[7] Rewald 1989, p. 211.