In Greek mythology, Arcadia is a pastoral utopia where humans live in perfect harmony with nature, spending their days in blissful contemplation of the unspoiled landscape. Or, as Philadelphia Art Museum curator Joseph J. Rishel puts it, “people standing around under trees without any clothes on.”
There are a wealth of such images of joyful, tree-shaded nudists in the Art Museum’s new exhibition, “Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia.” That natural paradise has been a recurrent theme throughout the history of art: The show’s 60-plus works reach as far back as 1627 for Poussin’s “La Grande Bacchanale,” and forward to the first decades of the 20th century, where the trees give way to smokestacks and skyscrapers in the eyes of the cubists.
The headliners, though, are three monumental masterpieces gathered together in one room for the first time: Gauguin’s “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” Cezanne’s “The Large Bathers” and Matisse’s “Bathers By a River.” Rishel was inspired to contemplate the relation of these modern masters examining one of the most classic subjects.
“Why did three of the most radical, progressive, avant-garde artists of their time,” Rishel asked during a preview of the exhibition, “revert to one of the oldest themes in the history of Western thought?”
If you go
‘Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia’
Through Sept. 3
Philadelphia Museum of Art