This show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has an irresistible subject. At the very name of Provence, almost everyone by now breaks into smiles. Vincent van Gogh spoke for all of them when he said to Berthe Morisot that Provence was “the most beautiful country in the world. It is as if you had Italy and Greece and the country round Paris combined and put together.”

It had long been so. Already in the early fourteenth century, when the poet Petrarch had professional duties at the Papal court in Avignon, he said, “Here I have my Rome, my Athens, my homeland.” Today, Provence musters Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Degas, and Cézanne as its key figures, with André Derain, Raoul Dufy, and Georges Braque as their successors. (Derain lived till 1953, Dufy till 1954, and Braque till 1963).

There was also an American painter, born and raised in England, named Thomas Cole (1801–1848). His...


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