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Philly Fling: My Peeks at Cézanne, Eakins, Kelly


Like the sign says, this much anticipated show doesn’t open at the Philadelphia Museum of Art till Feb. 26, but I got a sneak preview of what will likely be its introductory artwork by peering through a crack in the door:


The painting itself wasn’t yet installed, just a mock-up. But you all know who we’re looking at: He’s the Museum of Modern Art’s iconic “Bather” by Cézanne, which (pre-Taniguchi) long held pride of place as the introduction to the entire modernist canon—the first work you encountered in the museum’s paintings and sculpture galleries. Various other paintings have since vied for that honor on the fifth floor of the museum’s new building. (Currently, it’s Cézanne’s “Still
Life with Apples.”)

I can’t help but think that the unfailingly witty Joe Rishel, lead curator of the Philadelphia show that will explore Cézanne’s influence on subsequent artists, is mischievously teasing MoMA by reasserting the “Bather’s” status as a starting point for modern and contemporary art.

Rishel also apparently managed to trump MoMA by securing a loan of Steve Wynn‘s elbowed Picasso, “Le Rêve” (on right), which MoMA had unsuccessfully tried to borrow (pre-elbow) for its landmark “Matisse Picasso” show:


I also paid a visit to the new installation of Eakins’ “The Gross Clinic,” back again, on rotation, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for its second stay at the PMA since the two museums acquired it from Thomas Jefferson University. This time, they’ve hung it next to a preparatory sketch of the painting owned by the museum:


Let’s move in for a closer look at the sketch, which is quite dark, even in person:


These paintings are in a room dedicated to Rishel’s late wife, the museum’s long-time director, Anne d’Harnoncourt, who acquired the Eakins masterwork and August Saint-Gaudens‘ “Angel of Purity” for Philly:


Here’s the Saint-Gaudens, which has little to do with the Eakins, other than the fact that its continued residence in its home city had also been in jeopardy: It had been removed for sale from the church where it had been installed for a century:


One day they’ll get around installing “The Gross Clinic” beside the other work in the museum that it most resembles, Eakin’s “The Agnew Clinic,” on longterm loan from the University of Pennsylvania. For now, you can find Dr. Agnew in a remote gallery, beyond all the rest of the Eakinses, beside another loaned Eakins—“Portrait of Professor Benjamin H. Rand,” which Alice Walton bought from Thomas Jefferson University, after her planned purchase of “The Gross Clinic” was preempted:


Anne d’Harnoncourt’s continued presence in spirit was felt elsewhere in the museum, particularly here:


That’s Ellsworth Kelly‘s “Seine,” 1951, a work admired by Anne, which was purchased, in part, with funds donated to the museum in her memory. The museum also received several artworks directly donated in her memory, including this Stella from Agnes Gund:


Frank Stella, “Plant City,” 1963

Now if only, on a recent lovely Saturday afternoon, the museum’s stunning galleries devoted to Duchamp and Brancusi weren’t so devoid of visitors:


These world-class assemblages are in remote areas of the museum. Maybe some way-finding signage could help.

an ArtsJournal blog