Portraits of Life


Screenings: 24, 25, 26 & 28 February 2023

Ster-Kinekor cinemas: Brooklyn Commercial, Pretoria; Rosebank Nouveau Johannesburg; Gateway Commercial, Durban; V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Running time: 85 minutes

Exhibition on Screen is delighted to bring back one of its most popular films, dedicated to the life and work of Paul Cézanne in a series of limited screenings. Described by The Guardian as “Magical and tremendous”, it’s difficult to appreciate twentieth-century art without understanding the significance and genius of Paul Cézanne.

Filmed at the National Portrait Gallery in London, with additional interviews from experts and curators from the MoMA in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, as well as correspondence from the artist himself, the film transports audiences to the locations where Cézanne lived and worked, shedding light on an artist who is perhaps the least known, yet most important, of all the Impressionists.

Writer and Director Phil Grabsky muses… Cézanne was at a café late one day in the early 1870s, shaking hands with a crowd of chatty artists. When he came upon Éduoard Manet he instead tipped his hat declaring “I won’t shake your hand, sir, as I have not washed in 8 days”. It was a wonderful combination of arrogance and humour, respectful yet insolent. And it provides insight into the wonderfully rounded, often misunderstood personality of one of the great 19th and early 20th-century artists, Paul Cézanne.

As much as we enjoy exploring artists from all over history and geography, we keep returning to that extraordinarily fruitful period in France at the end of the nineteenth century: Monet, Renoir, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, Matisse, Morisot, Cassatt, Whistler… and, most certainly, Paul Cézanne, the man Picasso famously called “the father of us all.”

We waited for a major exhibition that seemed ambitious, comprehensive, and thought-provoking enough for us to make a film about. I knew the moment had come when the director of London’s National Portrait Gallery announced a collaboration with the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

I enjoy biographies, so a Cézanne exhibition based on his portraiture was ideal, if a little unusual. One meets the people who have shaped his life here. With the exception of Rembrandt, there are more than a dozen self-portraits included, which is an unusually large number for an artist. It was nothing new for an artist to paint a self-portrait.

But something happens in the nineteenth century, perhaps to reflect the changing status of artists, or perhaps to reflect the new era of self-absorption, self-criticism, and self-analysis that emerged as the nineteenth century approached the twentieth. Whatever the motivation, this film shows how Cézanne painted his life story.