The Master of Us All

A smart show in Philadelphia charts the wide and enduring influence of Paul Cézanne

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Estate of Pablo Picasso 2008 / ARS

It's one of the ironies of art history that Paul Cézanne used to warn young painters, "Beware of the influential master." Could there have been a more influential master than he? "The master of us all" is what Henri Matisse once called him, by which he surely meant himself, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Piet Mondrian and any of the other pioneers of modernism. Fernand Léger once told an interviewer about his "battle to quit Cézanne," as though he were a narcotic. "Then one bright day," Léger insisted, "I said, 'Zut!'" ( See pictures of Cezanne's art. )

But shaking Cézanne is...

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