best art of 2014: both anticipated + unexpected

Featuring giants, such as Matisse and Cézanne, as well as lesser known artists, this year’s best exhibitions ranged from eagerly awaited blockbusters to pleasant surprises

Wall Street Journal, article by Karen Wilkin

‘Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair’ (c. 1877) by Paul Cézanne. MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON

The year’s most memorable exhibitions, some of which can still be seen into 2015, ranged from the much-anticipated to the unexpected, from revealing considerations of art-historical giants to informative presentations of less familiar practitioners.

“Madame Cézanne,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, places high on any list. The show assembles an astonishing 24 of the known 29 paintings and some intimate drawings of Hortense Fiquet, Cézanne’s companion, mother of his son, and eventually his wife, who posed patiently and silently for her exacting husband for almost two decades. The only person he painted more portraits of than Fiquet was himself. Every image is different. We encounter a near-abstract arrangement of neatly parted hair against frontal shoulders, a severe presence in a red dress, a relaxed figure in a tawny conservatory, variously evoked by careful touches of pigment, loose scribbles, thin layers of paint, dense accretions. Only the geometric oval of Hortense’s head, emphasized by her scraped-back hair, remains constant. The familiarity of her features and presence freed Cézanne to invent, conceptually and formally. He made no conventional “portraits” of her but, rather, used her well-known appearance as a starting point for rigorous pictorial explorations.

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{featured image: ‘Two Masks’ (1947) by Henri Matisse. MR. AND MRS. DONALD B. MARRON, NEW YORK/© 2014 SUCCESSION H. MATISSE/ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK}

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