A Taste of Modernism


By Iride Aparicio

paley 1

SAN FRANCISCO, CAFrom her life-size oil portrait hanging from a wall in the  gallery of  the WILLIAM S. PALEY COLLECTION, a Taste of Modernism exhibition, Madame Grenier glances at her visitors with disdain. HENRI De TOLOUSE-LAUTREC, who painted her in l888,  in addition to his skill as a satiric painter of Paris-Cabarets’  images, was a gifted portraitist who managed to put into her face an air that exudes self-satisfied indolence. The work, an impressive example of LAUTREC’s ability to put expression in his subjects, is one of the many pictures of the exhibition that opened to the public last week at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

TIMOTHY ANGLIN BURGARD, the Ednah Root Curator of American Art at  the de Young Museum, and its Curator in Charge of American Art, explained to the press at the press conference, that the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA), received the paintings and art objects now exhibited at the de Young, as a gift. They belonged to the private collection of the late  WILLIAM S. PALEY, the founder and guiding spirit of CBS and a towering figure in the development of the communications industries in the USA.

Mr. PALEY brought his fist paintings in the l930’s at the time when there were very few collectors interested in modern art. He was already a wealthy man whose taste for modernism ran parallel to his interest in the  new technologies, that had given him his wealth.

During his life,  Mr. PALEY gathered a big collection of art objects and pictures painted by the new young artists who dare to use in their paintings a rainbow of clashing colors, new techniques, and never-before tried brush strokes.  Because the art objects he acquired for his apartment, not for his office or his country house, were intimate in format and character, Mr. PALEY called his private collection  a “a sensuous, aesthetic delight”

Mr. PALEY’s involvement with the Museum of Modern Art in N. Y. started years later, in l937, when he became a trustee of the institution which had been established eight years earlier. He was an active force in the Museum where he worked for over fifty years. From l968 to l972 he served as President and then as Chairman from l972 until l985 when he was named Chairman Emeritus. During his life, Mr. PALEY guided MOMA N.Y. with enthusiasm, faith,  persistence, perseverance and vision.  He was not only a model trustee, but also a generous donor not only of his time, but of funds and of works of art. 

To the art lovers, the PALEY COLLECTION offers a  unique chance to appreciate, in just a few hours,  a broad sample of modernism-style master works painted by a variety of painters, among them: BACON,  CEZANNE, TOULOUSE-LAUTREC, DEGAS, MANET, MATISSE, DERAIN, and PICASSO,  to name a few.
Paley 2One of the famous  pictures exhibited in the collection is Boy Leading a Horse (shown left) a life-size oil work painted by PABLO PICASSO in l905.  The painting belongs to PICASSO’s “Rose Period,” which is normally characterized for the prevailing tonality of the color pink in the pictures. PICASSO’s pictures from this period are governed by a symbolist principle which is unifying the painting by one single dominating hue which sets the mood. 

In this particular painting, PICASSO substitutes the color blue (of the sky) for the color pink which he uses as background of the picture, to color the skin of  the naked boy and, in patches, to color the horse’s body where the color blue blends with the color pink.  For those familiar with PICASSO’s eccentricities, the color substitution indicates that the painter had changed mood,  in this case from pessimism (blue) to optimism (pink). 

By the title of his painting, Boy Leading a Horse, one may also interpret  a psychological image taking place in the painters’ mind. In this painting PICASSO has increased his awareness of his own  power. In the figure of the boy, PICASSO portray himself as a new leader. The Symbolist qualities in PICASSO's pictures are also part of the “soft”phase of  his Rose Period.

Paley 3Unique in the collection for its meaning is The Seed of the areois (pictured left) painted by PAUL GAUGIN in l892. The same picture has also has been  published with the wrong name of  “The Queen of the Areois”

Discussing this painting, Mr. BURGARD 
told the audience that when the picture arrived at the Museum of Modern Art in N.Y., the skin of the nude woman in the picture was whiter because somebody had sprayed white paint over her skin. The restores at the Museum had to scrape the white paint from her body and face to bring out her skin to the original color intended by her painter.

The importance of this picture, is that in the Polynesian culture, the painting is the equivalent of the Genesis story. The painting represent the “seeds” of creation, which one can see resting on the table and one seed held in the woman’s left hand. The painting also represents  Oro, the Sun god who is also the god of War (one can see it in the background). The legend tells us that after searching for the “most beautiful woman in the world for his mate,  Oro discovered her in the island of Bora Bora. He mate with her and created “The  perfect race” a Polynesian secret society that had disappeared long before GAUGUIN visited Tahiti for the first time. When painting the picture, GAUGUIN used his Tahitian vahine (his lover) as his model and “seeds” as a symbol to describe her procreative potential.

Fascinating also in this exhibition, is that it allows the visitor to  look at different pictures painted by the same painter and observe his changes in style during the years.  

In PAUL CÉZANNE’s paintings, for instance, one can see his Self Portrait in Straw Hat  (see picture below)  dated 1875-76 also dated l873-76, which was painted at the time when  CÉZANNE was going through his “impressionist” period and the  artistPaley 4 was under the influence of PICASSO.  While painting it, the painter was still trying to be objective in representing  his subject true to his visual sensations. Yet, one can observe certain changes:

If we look at the man's face in the picture, we become aware that he subject’s face and his hat were painted using a series of patches of pink and darker paint. Another change is that the man’s beard and hair are painted using a dense blotch of black paint. It is interesting to note that the blackness on his beard and hair combined with the dark blue of his jacket is what give the picture its weight, which is lightened when it is contrasted by the yellow color of the hat. In this self- portrait,  the painter still painted all the features of the subject recognizable.

His next picture  Milk Can and Apples (below) was painted in 1879-80, three years later, as is one in a group of eleven still lifes which mark CÉZANNE’s transition out of “impressionism” into his own mature style. This picture is the first one in which the artist achieved not only "luminous" but a transparent kind of color in the fruits  and a unique perspective using blue shadows in the folded tablecloth.  Interesting also is to note that his anti-naturalistic pattern formed a landscape: the folds in the
Paley 5 the table cloth look like a mountain range. Locking the form are all the fruits around it. The random appearance of the cloth painted with what CEZANNE called “constructive brush strokes,”  gives the viewer an illusion of literal gravity which becomes the vehicle of the gravitas of the image.

In this picture, the sense of concentration previously established by the milk can and fruits spreaded on the table, has been completely set off by the mountain- shape table cloth, which is interesting                                                                                                                                                
Paley 6In L’Estaque (pictured left) painted in between l879-83, the painter gives us a densely composed somber landscape. If we compare it with his other pictures of L’Estaque, we notice that this one is the least highly colored, yet it has more force than the others.

To paint this picture, CEZANNE apparently set his easel on a roof which gave him a view of the roof tops of the houses nearby and the lake in the background.  

In the composition of the picture, the artists shows compression, with the mass of green trees on the right crawling towards the roof tops of the houses.

The stone mountain on the right, gives the scene and angular perspective, enhanced by CÉZANNE’s “constructive brush strokes”. The shape of this pictures is created  by two pyramids. One to our right, formed by the stone mountain and the other and inverted pyramid formed by the blotches of green paint representing the trees. Both pyramids coming together at one point of the picture. The pyramid on our right is incomplete, the other, on our left, is complete but standing upside down balancing on its apex.

Looking at this picture, it becomes obvious that the painter had now rejected MONET’s and RENOIR’s notion of art depending on the passive eye because in his painting CÉZANNE is selecting his eye’s sensations and using his own “logic of organized sensations".

 THE PALEY COLLECTION  It is one of those rare exhibitions that allows our minds to travel through different periods of modern art,  compare the styles of the painters and observe  the techniques of those artists who discovered new ways  to express themselves on a canvas, holding a brush in one hand and a palette of vibrant colors in the other.

All the photographs in the WILLIAM S. PALEY COLLECTION are by Thomas Griesel, Kate Keller, Paige Knight, Jonathan Musikar, Mali Olatunji, John Wronn and other photographers in the Museum’s Department of Imaging Services.

THE WILLIAM PALEY COLLECTION will be shown at the De Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco until December 30.  For information go online to or  call (415) 750-3600