National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Annual Bulletin 7, 1983-1984

Annual Index
Author & Subject

The Influence of Cézanne on Adrien Hébert

by Jean-René Ostiguy*

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This, to our knowledge, is the sum of Hébert's paintings that seem to be inspired by Cézanne's form and technique. Other paintings from the same period may be discovered, but probably they win not significantly modify our understanding of Hébert's art.

When he painted himself beside a joyful follower of the god Pan, Hébert was not yet known as the "poet of the Port of Montreal," (19) nor as the author of the major compositions The Market, Jacques Cartier Square and Skaters (fig. 17). He had not yet renounced the better part of Cézanne's legacy. (20) Although Adrien Hébert profited from the lessons of Cézanne for only a few years, the fact remains that in the eyes of a small group of Montreal artists and intellectuals, from his exhibition at the Cercle universitaire in 1921 until his second exhibition at the Bibliothèque Saint-Sulpice in 1923, the artist's work represented a first step toward modernism.

In 1942, shortly after painting Skaters, Adrien Hébert wrote in the magazine Culture: "Paul Cézanne is justly regarded as the pioneer of modern painting. He painted excellent portraits, very beautiful landscapes...but failed miserably in the major decorative composition that shows female figures in a landscape. He never painted academy figures from life, and one of his biographers claims that he worked from prints." (21) This belated declaration cannot be commented on at great length here, but two factors should perhaps be mentioned. The first has to do with the so-called classical tendency of André Derain and Othon Firesz in 1908. This is amplified by comments on Cézanne's work by Louis Vauxcelles and Maurice Denis. The Salons d'Automne of 1904 and 1907 and the Bernheim-Jeune exhibition of 1905 had reawakened interest in Cézanne. The two critics regarded the Master of Aix as a neo-classicist and hoped that other artists would follow his example. (22) The second factor, which concerns Hébert particularly, is the attention that such critics as Claude Roger Marx and Waldemar George gave to André Favory during the 1920s, for having worked on large-scale decorative compositions on themes of human life. Shortly after this classical era, people spoke freely of "great themes." (23) These were examples that a great admirer of Puvis de Chavannes from Montreal could not ignore.

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