“Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art From the Pearlman Collection,” the exhibition opening at the High Museum of Art on Saturday, features a grouping of artists whose first names you don’t need when you see their last names: Cézanne, Degas, van Gogh, Manet, Pissarro, Gauguin, Modigliani.
And then there’s Chaïm Soutine.
If his name’s not quite familiar to you, you’re in good company. But this French expressionist painter (1893-1943) was a favorite of the late Henry Pearlman, who amassed this prime collection of modern art that, before this current international tour, had remained at the Princeton University Art Museum since 1976.
In fact, the first major work Pearlman purchased was a Soutine: “View of Céret” (circa 1921-22), a landscape in thickly brush-stroked oils in which the Pyrenean village is rendered virtually unrecognizable.
Still, the powerful piece radiates what David Brenneman, the High Museum’s director of collections and exhibitions and European art curator, believes is some serious post-World War I angst. Brenneman said it’s remarkable that it caught Pearlman’s then-untrained eye in the window of a New York auction house as he was striding down Park Avenue one wintry 1945 day.
Pearlman placed a winning bid of $825 in the Parke-Bernet auction of “Notable Modern French and Other Paintings,” and, with his wife, Rose, was off and running as a collector.
“When I came home in the evenings and saw it, I would get a lift, similar to the experience of listening to a symphony … well known and liked,” he wrote of his Soutine score. “This first pleasant experience with a modern painting started me on a road of adventure … I haven’t spent a boring evening since.”
The High makes “View of Céret” among the first Pearlman Collection pieces visitors will see, right after an introductory 1948 Oskar Kokoschka portrait of the collector.
Pearlman, who founded the Eastern Cold Storage Insulation Corp. in 1919, didn’t have the opportunity to meet Soutine, who died two years before that first purchase. But the collector and the artist had common roots, being born within a couple of years of each other to poor Russian-Jewish parents — Soutine in Belarus, Pearlman in Brooklyn.
Pearlman grew into a serious Soutine collector and acquired many pieces by other makers as he traced the French artist’s early influences.
Pearlman’s adventures in modernism inevitably led him to Cézanne, whom he collected with zest. “Cézanne and the Modern” includes 24 works by the title artist, including 16 fragile and seldom-exhibited watercolors.
The rare opportunity to view a cache of Cézannes will make the High a fall and holiday destination for lovers of impressionist and post-impressionist art, but the museum views this as an opportunity to raise Soutine’s profile, as well. In addition to seven Soutine works included in the touring show, the High is exhibiting five of his “emotionally charged” portraits, as Brenneman terms them, from the Lewis Collection plus a landscape from the museum’s own permanent collection.
“Cézanne and the Modern” will run through Jan. 11 at the High, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-4444, www.high.org.