A Cézanne Still Life Moves the Art Market

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Purists may pooh-pooh wealthy collectors' obsession with them, but there's no doubt that Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings have definitely caught the eye -- and the wallets -- of the '90s art world. On Monday night, Paul Cézanne’s "Still Life With Curtain, Pitcher and Bowl of Fruit" fetched a whopping $60.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction in Manhattan -- the fourth highest sum for a work of art sold at auction, right behind Van Gogh’s "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" ($82.5 million), Renoir’s "At the Moulin de la Galette" ($78.1 million) and a Van Gogh self-portrait ($71.5 million). A percentage of these price tags may unfortunately be indicative of the "immense amount of money that some people have at their disposal," says TIME art critic Robert Hughes, "but Monday night’s Cézanne was truly a great painting from a master whose work is considered the foundation stone of modernism."

The popularity of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, as evidenced by museum crowds and auction prices, appear to reflect our sentimental desires for a less complicated time. "Impressionist art is accessible to us in a way that works from earlier periods are not," says Hughes. "It is secular, pleasurable to the eye, and reflective of a way of life that is still close, but fast disappearing." TIME executive editor Christopher Porterfield, who oversees the magazine's art coverage, agrees: "These works contain no subtle intellectual or technical agenda, no baggage of history or mythological subject. They’re simply fresh, spontaneous, light and colorful." And now very expensive.

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