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Kunsthaus highlights the perfectionist in Cézanne

The first exhibition to show a large number of paintings by Cézanne that are unfinished in the traditional sense of the word opened at Zurich's fine arts museum, the Kunsthaus, on Friday.

Regarded as the most influential artist of his generation, the French artist, Cézanne, who died in 1906, was a perfectionist who destroyed many paintings with which he was not satisfied.

The Zurich exhibition aims to show that the so-called unfinished ones which survived were not completed by him for aesthetic rather than technical reasons.

The museum's director, Felix Baumann, says several variations on a single motif have been intentionally presented, to give viewers the chance to trace the stages of realisation.

"We are extremely pleased that we have succeeded in bringing together a considerable number of variations, for example the artist's portraits of his wife or the studies of gardener Vallier from Cézanne's late period," he said.

A leading expert on Cézanne's works, Walter Feilchenveldt, says a good example of one of the "unfinished" portraits is that of the gallery-owner, Ambroise Vollard, which illustrates to what extent the artist was a perfectionist.

"There are two empty white spots on his hand. Cézanne remarked that if he spent a day studying the old masters in the Louvre, he might find the right colour to fill them in," he explained.

"But if he used the wrong colour he would have to start all over again. Many paintings with empty spaces were considered by Cézanne to be finished because they satisfied him aesthetically," Feilcheveldt added.

The exhibition features paintings on loan from prestigious museums and private collections from all over the world.

"In the late 19th century it was unusual to leave empty spaces on a canvas," said Feilchenveldt. "There was a fear that potential lenders might be reluctant to contribute to an exhibition which labels a painting unfinished."

"But the opposite has been achieved. The unfinished ones are so beautiful and so superbly balanced that their value has to be completely reconsidered."

The exhibition "Finished - Unfinished" ends on July 30.

by Richard Dawson


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