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Visions of Arcadia

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Andrea Kirsh reviews the exhibition Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on view through September 3, 2012.

Kirsh writes: "In terms of the exhibition's theme one has to ask, why this subject then? And why such monumental paintings? The previous avante-garde had pointedly rejected the hierarchies of the Academy, which considered still lives and portraits beneath consideration, landscapes a lesser genre, and valued only history painting: paintings of figures depicting scenes from Biblical or Classical stories or actual events, such as Gericault's Raft of the Medusa. These have been called the grand machines of the French tradition, and only Manet attempted the genre (traditionally with the Execution of Maximilian, and in abased form with his Dejuner Sur l’Herbe and Olympia). This return to majestic history painting certainly raises the question of what turn-of-the-20th century painting should be and do, and where it fits within the history of art. The paintings by Gauguin, Cézanne and Matisse stand out in scale and ambition, exceptions within their oeuvres.

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