Cézanne and American painting 1900 to 1920

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1995-05

Authors

Kyle, Jill Anderson, 1936-

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Abstract

This dissertation investigates the impact of Cézanne upon the art and theory of ten early modernist painters who stand as his major American disciples in the period from 1900 to 1920. This group includes: Maurice Prendergast, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Max Weber, Morton L. Schamberg, Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Morgan Russell, and Patrick Henry Bruce. While these artists have been studied individually, no one has examined them as a group whose focus on modern European art, primarily that of Cézanne, was largely guided by the intellectual and cultural backdrop of their own country. The form-related terminology of well-known American writers, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and William James, deepened and prolonged these Americans' interest in Cézanne's painting and the French and British criticism that accompanied it. Particularly relevant to this study is the term "plastic." It was used by American men of letters, French avant-garde critics, and a number of early modernists who, when they applied the word to some aspect of Cézanne's art, significantly expanded its connotations. Aware of European criticism that addressed Cézanne's art, the Americans nonetheless brought their own practical and theoretical insights to their interpretations of his painting. In this context, a great deal of archival material confirms that the perceptive commentary on Cézanne by Hartley, Schamberg, Sheeler, Weber, Russell and others constituted a new genre of early modernist art criticism. The American response to Cézanne also did not occur as an isolated artistic phenomenon. The early modernists' commitment to experimentation with features of Cézanne's visual language was often supported by ideas derived from photography, japonisme, and primitivism, three artistic factors that affected the understanding of Cézanne in this country. A close investigation of the Americans' Cézanne-related works reveals a complexity of response that ranges from an intellectual, geometric ordering of subject elements to suggestive compositions in which thin washes dematerialize plastic form. The study concludes with a brief discussion of Cézanne's place in the American return to ideas of 'classicism' in art following World War I, a reversion to conservative interests that replaced the former drive for experimentation.

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