You can blame Paul Cézanne for most of the great upheaval that we call modernism in Western painting. A century ago, the great 1907 memorial exhibition organized to honor him after his death the previous year was a life-changing experience for just about every adventurous young artist who saw it. At least until the middle of the last century, he remained someone ambitious painters had to come to terms with, if they were to discover their own identities. To Henri Matisse, Cézanne was “the father of us all,” to Paul Klee, “the teacher par excellence,” and to Pablo Picasso, “a mother who protects her children.” (This is not the place to discuss Picasso’s habit of describing any male painter by whom he felt challenged in female terms.) Matisse and Picasso both owned, cherished, and learned from works by Cézanne. Matisse acquired his little painting, Three Bathers, in 1899, when he was...


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