new-york

John Lees

Betty Cuningham Gallery

Claude Lantier, a fictional painter, fated to never complete a work, whom Émile Zola depicts in his novel l’Oeuvre (1886), has long been assumed to be based on Cézanne, a characterization that led to an irreparable break between the supreme artist of the modern era and the great realist writer who was Cézanne’s closest boyhood friend and earliest champion. One cannot help but remember this painful fait divers now that John Lees, one of the grandest eccentrics of modern American painting, is at last having a show.

Lees, both as painter and draftsman, has ever been unable—is doubtless unwilling—to finish a work. This dilatoriness has fostered a curious underground celebrity that has percolated for years, longer even than it takes this veteran figure not to bring a work to completion. Among the strange details of Lees’s practice is the inscription of a marginal or dorsal record of

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