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What to Do Today: Watch Cézanne Portraits of a Life Film

The latest Exhibition on Screen film opens at cinemas today

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Exhibition on Screen presents its latest film about on of the most talked-about exhibitions of the year; Cézanne: Portraits of a Life. The exhibition of Cézanne’s portraits opens in Paris before traveling to London and Washington, and here, director Phil Grabsky gives us an inside view on this must-see accompanying film. 

Paul-Cézanne, Self Portrait in a Bowler Hat, 1885 86. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen. Photo Ole Haupt

Paul-Cézanne, Self Portrait in a Bowler Hat, 1885 86. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen. Photo Ole Haupt

Cézanne: Portraits of a Life: Q&A with Phil Grabsky

Can you tell us about the decision to bring this exhibition to life in this way?

We are always on the lookout for landmark shows that we can film and use as a springboard for a fresh new look at the biography of the artist concerned. I have been fascinated by Cézanne for a long time and when I heard about the portraits exhibition being put on in Paris, London and Washington, I knew it was the ideal basis for a film. Plus, I enjoy working with all three of the galleries working on the exhibition, which was a bonus.

What did you hope to add to the exhibition with the film

Well, first of all I would encourage everyone to go and see this or any other exhibition – but, of course, sometimes we simply can’t, so one of our aims is to show you an exhibition that you may well have missed. As we’re now shown in 60 countries – including Costa Rica, Venezuela, Russia, and New Zealand – much of our audience don’t have the chance to see the show.

More than that though, we add an enormous amount – we have the curators and other experts guiding us through the show as well as through Cézanne’s life. We also have HD close-ups of the paintings showing you details you can easily miss in person, and we have privileged access to the very locations Cézanne lived and worked. If anything, that’s out great skill – we are storytellers. We’ve been making biographies for thirty years and I think we’re very good at doing the research, and then picking out the key moments and most illuminating contemporary accounts and letters to provide an intelligent, accessible and revealing biography.

Cézanne: Portraits of a Life, Cézanne's studio © EXHIBITION ON SCREEN David Bickerstaff

Cézanne: Portraits of a Life, Cézanne’s studio © EXHIBITION ON SCREEN David Bickerstaff

Personally, how do you think experiencing an exhibition in this way compares to taking a physical tour round a gallery?

I always suggest doing both. Our films are not simply walk-through tours of exhibitions. They are cinema pieces – made with the best composers, cinematographers and so on. These are films made to last – to be enjoyed in ten years time, which is apparent when you see them in the cinema.

What is the drive behind the Exhibition on Screen series?

I came up with the idea in 2009 and our first film was released to cinemas in 2011. Leonardo from the National Gallery proved a lot of people wrong, who questioned why people would go to the cinema to see art. Since then many other people have seen the value in this format, with the V&A and British Museum both doing similar films. Cézanne is our 19th film – and what drives us is our love of art, our love of film-making and cinema and, importantly, the messages we get on Facebook or via email from cinema-goers from around the world. I love that.

Cézanne: Portraits of . a Life. Interviewing Cézanne's great grandson Philippe Cézanne © EXHIBITION ON SCREEN David Bickerstaff

Cézanne: Portraits of . a Life. Interviewing Cézanne’s great grandson Philippe Cézanne © EXHIBITION ON SCREEN David Bickerstaff

Have you been surprised by the success of the series?

Not really – more people in the UK go to galleries each week than football matches. You wouldn’t know that by watching TV, would you? I think everyone appreciates art – even those who say they don’t, actually make artistic decisions every day. I hope these people can be drawn into the cinema to see a film about art, and then hopefully a gallery too. The brilliant thing about the cinema is that it’s so accessible – we show Exhibition on Screen in over 240 cinemas, and you can even request your own screening in your local cinema, school or village hall at

Cézanne: Portraits of a Life opens at cinemas today. Watch the trailer below.

What’s on this week in the town? And in the country? Check out our culture diaries before you fill in yours. 

If you often find yourself stuck for ideas of what to do, we’ve come to the rescue with our brand new ‘What To Do Today’ feature. We handpick the best of what’s on in London and the country right now, whether a new restaurant, must-see show, exhibition ending soon or a pop-up that you must, ahem, pop in to. Check back every day for inspiration…