May 5, 2013

At PMA, a dazzling collection starring icons of Modernism


(Continued from page 1)

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L’Estaque,” oil on canvas by Paul Cezanne, 1879-83

Images © The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The William S. Paley Collection

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“Washerwomen, Arles,” oil on burlap by Paul Gauguin, 1888

Additional Photos Below



WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square

WHEN: Through Sept. 8

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; until 9 p.m. Friday

COST: $5 surcharge in addition to regular admission of $12 for adults; $10 for seniors and students with ID; $6 for ages 13 to 17; free for ages 12 and under

INFO: 775-6148;

The most powerful presence is Picasso. His blue/rose "Boy Leading a Horse" (1905-06) is a work of brilliance on a scale we associate with tableaux. But its genuinely sensitive humility is largely betrayed by what we can no longer see.

This work would have appeared as a cartoon -- a preparatory work to scale not even pretending to be a finished painting. That would explain the simplified forms and drawing.

But in Picasso's hands, the classical references, nudity, economy -- and poverty -- come together with subversive brilliance to dismiss the academic status quo. And like his clothes, Picasso reveals the emperor's new reins.

Overshadowed somewhat by the larger work is the greatest piece of the collection, Picasso's "Architect's Table" (1912) -- the very apogee of Analytic Cubism.

Placement and lighting certainly matter in this show, and it's important to remember that Picasso's (and all other) drawings aren't brightly lit in order to preserve them.

Still, light and color are the main reason no one should miss this show. No photograph could capture the subtle color (density, transparency, reflection, juxtaposition, saturation, etc.) of Matisse's gorgeous "Musketeer" (1903). Nor could it reveal the reworking of his Nice period "Seated Woman with Amaryllis" (1941) that's visible (in person) in her flesh-and-yellow dress.

While Matisse's paintings look fresh and spontaneous, they are anything but. The artist worked them for months until he was satisfied.

There are too many great works to list, let alone discuss.

My favorites include Cezanne's drawing of his wife; Giacometti's painting "Annette" (I like his paintings even more than his sculpture); Gauguin's "Washwomen," painted in the company of Van Gogh, who gushed about it in letters to his brother; a pair of great Toulouse-Lautrec portraits; Maillol's terra cotta seated nude, beautifully placed in front of a weird/beloved Rose Period Picasso nude and drawings; Rodin's pedestal-scaled "Burghers of Calais" (Paley's sculptures are small but strong); Manet's tragically late pair of creamy roses; and a smattering of exquisite Nabi interior scenes.

Although they don't even make the show's short list, the works by Degas, Renoir, Hopper, Rouault and Braque would lead the PMA's collection.

Featuring the work underlying the great Maine art of Hartley, Marin, Nevelson, Hopper, Homer, Kuniyoshi and so many others, the Paley Collection shows up particularly well at the PMA.

We are the beneficiaries of Paley's insistence that his collection travel to 20 venues. The PMA is the 18th stop, and the only in New England. After the collection goes to Arkansas and Quebec, most of it may never travel again.

So don't miss it now.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

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Additional Photos

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“The Musketeer,” oil on canvas by Henri Matisse, 1903

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“Bridge over the Riou,” oil on canvas by Andre Derain, 1906

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Andre Derain’s oil on canvas “The Seine at Chatou,” 1906

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“The Architect’s Table,” oil on canvas mounted on panel by Pablo Picasso, 1912


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