Paul Cézanne – The 1907 Paris Exhibition: described by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Paul Cézanne – The 1907 Paris Exhibition: described by Rainer Maria Rilke.

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An account of when the greatest painter of the nineteenth century and one of the most important poets of the twentieth century met at the dawn of modernism.

October 1907. An exhibition was held in honour of the French painter Paul Cézanne, who had died a year earlier, as part of the Salon d’Automne in Paris.

The Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke was then aged thirty-two and living in Paris, where he worked as the secretary of sculptor Auguste Rodin. He visited the exhibition several times and gave his impressions in a series of letters written to his wife, the sculptress Clara Rilke Westhoff, in which he revealed the profound emotional impact that Cézanne’s art had on him.

These letters are among the most important accounts of the reception given to Cézanne’s works shortly after his death and contain astonishing remarks on their artistic qualities. But Rilke’s reflections go far beyond those of simple art criticism.

This is all the more interesting as the 1907 exhibition made an enormous impression on the generations of painters that followed, an impact that continues to be felt today. The event, which influenced artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp and others, laid the foundations for Cubism and, more generally, for modernism, and thus it marked an indisputable turning point in the history of art.