“Arcadia, the pastoral paradise beloved by poets and painters from the ancients to the moderns, is a terrific subject for a summer museum show. Aren’t we all in the mood for green glades, cool streams, lazy afternoons, and a little wine and song? I wish I could report that the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia” fulfills more than a fraction of that promise. But the exhibition, which ought to be a laidback intellectual feast, turns out to be a headache.
Joseph Rishel, the curator in charge, has certainly pulled together an astonishing group of loans, which climax in a room where Bathers, Philadelphia’s own Cézanne, is surrounded by masterworks by Poussin, Gauguin, Le Douanier Rousseau, Derain, and Matisse. But the exhibition is undone by what amounts to a showdown between half a dozen competing visions. What is billed as a gathering of the titans fizzles. While there is no question that, at least in some instances, these artists were involved with related sensibilities and ideas, it is not at all clear that their works speak directly to one another. Just because a beautiful young woman in a painting has taken off her clothes and stood by a stream or sat under a tree does not mean she has something to tell us about another woman who has done more or less the same thing. There is something almost embarrassing about the central room in Philadelphia, because the major works on display shrink away from one another. (I am reminded of the famous evening when Proust and Joyce were brought together at the same table, and failed to produce the revelatory conversation the world was waiting for.)”
— Jed Perl, “A Perfect Summer Painting Exhibition That Falls Flat”