Paul Cezanne

Steve says:
March 8, 2011 at 6:01 am:
I wanted everyone to see this gouache by Cezanne, but I want you guys to see it:

It’s one of his earliest watercolors ( around 1866 I believe ). There’s some difference of opinion about whether it’s a male or female, but who cares? It’s such an evocative painting that I have to force my eyes to look away from it. When Cezanne and Zola were boys, they used to go skinny-dipping and this might be a memory of one of those times. But I also detect the slight form of a woman’s breast, so maybe not. Even at this early stage, Cezanne was putting life-power into his work, which is often considered clumsy in comparison to his later more sophisticated compositions and color modulations. But I don’t feel that is true in as far as his concept of a painting goes. This small moonlit scene has the essential Cezanne gravitas for me.
Also Bart, I noticed some posts on Matisse by you, that I missed, with accompanying images of a woman asleep by a window. I guess I haven’t fully figured-out the blog site. Some back & forth posting is bound to happen and it was a nice surprise to bump into that painting under the Bathers heading with your comments.

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13 Responses to Paul Cezanne

  1. johnk823 says:

    That would be one musclular woman with some big feet if it is a woman. The only thing that would suggest so would be what I believe to be a crest in the water, that happens to be the same color as the body. Buy, we must also take into account that the same color is throughout the water.

    Of course, Cezanne could have planned this optical as a major part of the painting to make us all wonder. It would then, speak volumes as to his creativity and planning of such an optical wonderment for any observer, to figure out. Know one really knows but Cezanne, and he’s dead!

  2. trueoutsider says:

    Here’a a little passage from an 1866 letter from Cézanne to Zola:

    But you know all pictures painted inside, in the studio, will never be as good as those done outside. When out-of-door scenes are represented, the contrasts between the figures and the ground is astounding and the landscape is magnificent. I see some superb things and I shall have to make up my mind only to do things out-of-doors.

    I’ve read elsewhere that it was Pissarro who got Cézanne to begin to paint solely out of doors. I wonder if in this passage Cézanne is reflecting his own views or those urged on him by Pissarro.

  3. Steve says:

    One of my favorite old photographs from the late 1800s is a picture of Cezanne and Pissarro standing together with all their painting gear, getting ready to go out on a plein aire excursion. Pissarro did influence Cezanne’s painting I think, maybe slowing down Cezanne’s impetuousness a bit and teaching him about light and color ( maybe ), but the more important influence was in terms of support. Pissarro was like some gift from God to the Impressionists, so calm and understanding and supportive of each one of them. That’s just what Cezanne needed, maybe more than any technical advice. It allowed him to open up more to his own sensibilities, his “…little sensation…” as he called it. Cezanne just saw deeper than any of the others and would not have remained just an Impressionist in my opinion, no matter what. Here’s an example of his great new insight: ” The sunlight here is so terrific that it seems to me that objects stand out in silhouette, not only in black and white, but in blue, in red, in brown, in violet. I may be mistaken, but it seems to me to be the antithesis of modeling.” That last sentence is so quietly and modestly spoken that it’s easy to pass over it. But I think it was like a scriptural bombshell for art. So much has been made of Cezanne’s theory about modeling, even by Cezanne himself, that we can miss the more important fact that he was going beyond himself.
    Of course , the above gouache was done much earlier than this revelation, but I love it and wanted you to see it because it’s so strong and personal. This was young raw, rugged, emotional Cezanne, before Pissarro and the great outdoors ever got hold of him or before the blinders had begun to lift from his eyes.

    • trueoutsider says:

      I recall reading a letter or statement by Cezanne that Pissarro was the man who taught them all. I’ll try to see if I can find that reference. Pissarro was largely self-taught, growing up in the Virgin Islands. But he had some tutoring from Corot as well. Pissarro’s a fascinating figure and one of my favorite artists, not just for his painting but for the warmth and generosity of his personality. Like Courbet and many of them he was a socialist, believing in the larger fraternity of all artists and, as Cezanne called him, a father figure to many.

      Here’s a passage from Gerstle Mack’s Paul Cézanne that comments on Pissaro’s influence on C’s decision to move outdoors:

      Under the tactful guidance of Pissarro, who had been painting out of doors for a number of years, Cézanne began to work in the open air. Before he moved to Auvers he had been in the habit of making landscape sketches from nature and using them as studies from which to paint his finished pictures in the studio; now he painted the entire canvas out of doors. For the first time the major portion of his work consisted of landscapes. Whereas of the sixty-five-odd listed canvases painted before 1872 only thirteen, or one fifth, were landscapes, fourteen out of twenty-five–almost three -fifths — of his output at Auvers belonged to this category. Cézanne had joined the ranks of the Impressionists.

      Pissarro is another of those artists who I hardly paid attention to when I was younger, but his work just keeps looking better and better to me. One of my favorite paintings is a tiny little Pissarro that’s in the collection of Small French Paintings in the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in D.C.

  4. johnk823 says:

    Here is a link where you canview about 200 pieces of Cezannes work.

    • Steve says:

      John…good Cezanne site. I’ll find lots of things on it as the Cezanne phase plays out in my renewed connection with him and his paintings.

  5. Steve says:

    Bart and John… please bear with me on this analogy of Cezanne and Renoir: Cezanne the house builder and Renoir the gardener. Cezanne makes a painting like he’s putting up a structure ( I’ve done some framing and building and understand the need for solid support ), starting off with a foundation , then walls & rooms, then a roof, all set on a piece of property that echos and compliments the architecture ( even if the painting is a portrait of a person). Renoir ( up until his final classic nude models ) makes a painting like he’s creating a garden, flowing & growing and receding back into a yard ( I was a gardener for a decade and recognize how his paintings are ‘planted’ ). If Cezanne tilts a house he makes up for it by continuing the row of windows into the same angled hillside behind and then re-stabilizes the design with a heavy level wall in the foreground.

    Renoir’s buildings never tilt or experience such a Cezanne-ian earthquake, but belong attractively to the natural world around it

    Of course this is an unfair and concocted analogy, but a fun one, and it does give a good example of how Cezanne broke away from the pack of Impressionists. I recall reading that Renoir said ( a paraphrase ) : ” Cezanne has out done us all.”

    • johnk823 says:

      Here is what I see in these two pictures. Cezanne is using complex multiple point perspective, where Renior is using double point perspective. It is just too obvious to not see that. Try to print out both pictures and take a ruler and see where all the perspective points lead to. Then draw a line from the two far most points. This line will be your horizion line in the perspective. Cezanne will have multiple horizon lines based on each buildings layout perspective, and renoir will have only one horizon line in the single building perspective.

      Both are reall kool paintings and I like your point as to the builder verses the gardener theory, that is really kool to Steve. I like that alot!

    • trueoutsider says:

      I like that analogy, Steve.
      Here are a couple good quotes from Cézanne from his letters to Emile Bernard. This one written in 1904:

      May I repeat what I told you here: treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything in proper perspective so that each side of an object of a plane is directed towards a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon give breadth–that is, a section of nature or, if you prefer, of the spectacle that the Pater Omnipotens Aeterne Deus spreads out before our eyes. Lines perpendicular to this horizon give depth. But nature for us men is more depth than surface, whence the need of introducing into our light vibrations, represented by reds and yellows, a sufficient amount of blue to give the impression of air.

      Here’s another later in the same year:

      I am sorry that we cannot be together now, for I want to be right not in theory but in nature. Ingres, in spite of his “estyle” (Aixian pronunciation) and his admirers, is only a very little painter. You know the greatest painters better than I do: the Venetians and the Spaniards.

      To achieve progress nature alone counts, and the eye is trained through contact with her. It becomes concentric by looking and working. I mean to say that in an orange, an apple, a bowl, a head, there is a culminating point; and this point is always–in spite of the tremendous effect of light and shade and colorful sensations–the closest to our eye; the edges of the objects recede to a center on our horizon. With a small temperament one can be very much of a painter. One can do good things without being very much of a harmonist or a colorist. It is sufficient to have a sense of art–and this sense is doubtless the horror of the bourgeois. Therefore institutions, pensions, honors can only be made for cretins, rogues, and rascals. Do not be an art critic, but paint; therein lies salvation.

      I particularly like that line: “It is sufficient to have a sense of art–and this sense is doubtless the horror of the bourgeois.”

      • Steve says:

        That is a good line and a great slam on the bourgeois. I also like the line: ” I want to be right not in theory but in nature….” That Bernard guy, he won the confidence of all those other great painters back then. He must have been a true listener, with real wisdom to offer. If Cezanne opened up to him and expressed his feelings, that’s really saying something about Emile Bernard. One of the greatest ‘what if’ photographs in art history has Bernard sitting across from Van Gogh, at a small outdoor cafe table. Bernard’s face is visible, but on Van Gogh’s back. Oh what if Vincent had turned around as the photographer snapped the picture?

  6. Steve says:

    Here’s a story to go with this Cezanne painting of a boy with a skull: I had a skull once, when I lived in Sweden in the late 60’s early 70’s. The very old city that I lived in was excavating a cobblestone street in the middle of town and dug up a century’s old monastery which had skeletons and bones and all sorts of great old stuff. The archeologists came in and roped-off the area for study. One night very late a friend and I went down there to take a look and nobody was around this ancient site. I saw a skull in a deep hole and had my friend lower me down by my ankles so I could grab it. I put it under my coat and took it home. I placed it on a plate and put it on our kitchen table. My fiancee did not know what to think. I told her I wanted to do a painting of it, that it was a great artifact that needed to be recorded properly ( or some such ridiculous excuse ). So, my question is: where did Cezanne get his skull? Or Vincent his skull ( with a cigarette in its mouth)? Or Rembrandt his skull?
    But skull stories aside, what a fine painting this is. I could live with this one and never tire of looking at it. Every edge and shape goes somewhere. Like the line going up the boy’s back & head and carried on up into the fold of the curtain. And the table top edge with white letters aimed right into the heart of the figure. And that skull, staring at this center point. And for feeling of form, isn’t that leg and trousers beautiful? It shows the weight of the boy sitting in the chair with one or two simple lovely gray bulges. There are connections like this in every single part of the painting. No throw-away areas. I think of Bart’s Picasso quote that “…what interests us about Cezanne is his anxiety….” What was Cezanne anxious about? Could it have been the great struggle to make every single aspect of his painting ‘work’ in unison with all the parts? I ask this about Cezanne, but I could just as well ask it of myself. Because that is the dilemma I face in my art work. I’m never satisfied. There seems always to be one more thing I can change to make an aspect of a painting better ‘fuse’ with the design and the concept. This painting feels completely fused to my eye. I would experience near delirium if I made a painting this exquisitely put-together.

  7. trueoutsider says:

    I’ve always thought of the anxiety that Picasso referred to as the same anxiety of Picasso and all modern painters. It does have to do with the anxiety of getting the painting right, but also the even larger anxiety of whether it is possible at all for painting to continue beyond the perfection of the Old Masters. Picasso in late life became obsessed with painting after Old Master painters, like Delacroix, Rembrandt, Velazquez and others. The anxiety is directly linked to the story of Frenhofer, from Balzac’s short story, The Unknown Masterpiece. Is it possible for painting to create a new space, a new reality divorced from the tyranny of Renaissance space? Picasso took up that challenge in a way that no other artist around him did, opening up myriad ways for painting to evolve.

    There’s a fascinating questionnaire that Cézanne answered. It’s included in the book Cézanne by himself, edited by Richard Kendall. The 20th question asks “What character from literature or the theater are you most drawn to?”

    Cézanne answers: Frenhofer.

    Dore Ashton, one of my favorite art historians, wrote the book A Fable of Modern Art that examines the connection between the Balzac character and subsequent modern artists. She’s also written very good books on the New York school and on Cornell, Guston, and Rothko. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by her. It’s not often I find a 20th Century American art writer who brings something to one’s understanding of other painters.

    Most art writing nowadays is more equivalent to the writing of used-car hucksters putting over the latest baked art celebrity in inflated prose that bears no relationship to what one is looking at.

    Here’s a prime example from the current critic of the New Yorker magazine, speaking a couple years ago about one of the half-baked wünderkinder the New York art world put over in the 80s.

    ..his most recent pictures have an undiminished, crackling edginess and authenticity. Across 9-foot-wide expanses of bare or colored ground, they deploy his familiar but always surprising stick figures, funny-savage masks, and block-lettered words.

    The same critic derides Cézanne as tiresome and passé when reviewing the current show at the Met. So Cézanne doesn’t pay off concentrated looking but the always surprising stick figures and block-lettered words strewn haphazardly across 9 feet of canvas are “crackling edginess and authenticity.”

    That sums up how thoroughly bankrupt the New York art world has become in terms of recognizing quality or seriousness in painting.

  8. Steve says:

    I’m going to get that Balzac book. I have been aware of it for a long time and don’t know why I never picked it up. Now seems to be the right time.
    As for the contemporary art world and its current criticism, I too find it thoroughly depressing. On my mail route I deliver just about every magazine there is, so of course I notice those publications that have art-world news and commentary. I see what the expects show and and say. It’s sickening. I just watched a new film called ” What The *#!” Is A Jackson Pollock?” A documentary about a lady truck driver who bought a Pollock (?) at a junk shop for $5 and has been trying for 10 years to get it authenticated. She’s been offered 2 million and 9 million by private buyers, but she’s a tough-minded gal who wants her painting either ‘sanctioned’ by the experts or proved to not be a Pollock. You would not believe how pompous those experts are. It doesn’t matter if it’s a real Pollock or not to me, what got me was the so called connoiseurs of painting…a couple of these guys would send you into a fit of apoplexy Bart ( maybe you’d better not see it ). They actually think that they are the true arbiters of art, claiming even more authority on the subject than painters and artists. They are cut-throat killers. Not the old-world gentlemen critics like Clark , Berenson, or even Berger. And it really all comes down to money, if the truth be told. They could care less about the art, though they act like they are the true caretakers of creativity.

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