WE HAVE FROM CEZANNE'S HAND over thirty self-portraits. They are not only documents of his appearance over the four decades of his career as a painter; they also indicate a continued self-concern surprising in an artist of classic tendency. In several of them, this self-awareness struggles with his pictorial impulse or habit, and we sometimes find together in the same portrait acutely observed physiognomic features and some geometric detail that gives an abstract inhuman air to the part. We have become so used to looking at Cezanne's forms as constructive relationships that we enter with difficulty into the expression of the lines and areas. In this portrait with the intense right eye, the prominent brow, the beard and mouth sunk into the body with hunched shoulders, what is the meaning of the lozenge pattern of the wall paper? What does it do to the face and the picture? It surrounds and glorifies the bald head with a starred angular halo - its enclosing character is assured by omitting the lines of the ornament that would meet the head and pass behind it. This angular form, so much like the zigzag of the lapel, is opposed to the massive roundness of the head and of the shoulder thrust towards us. The duality of round and straight forms appears at first as a contrast of the living and the geometric, but we discover soon that the zigzag of the ornament and the lapel are not altogether distinct from the face; their diagonal angular form recurs, though less rigidly, in the nose and beard and eyebrows; and the little star-cross lozenges correspond to the eyes and nose. This wedding of the organic and the geometric has a beautiful simplicity which makes us overlook or accept the arbitrary treatment of the wallpaper pattern. The ornament is not used for surface interest, but as a necessary element of structure in a whole of great concentration and weight. The opposition of curved and straight is only one of several strong dualities pervading the work: light and shadow, the modeled and flat, the vertical and diagonal, the concave line and convex, the open and closed - all interwoven or crossed. On the physiognomic level, there is a similar search for contrast in the upper and lower parts of the head and especially in the eyes, one dulled and recessive, the other more strongly marked, alert, and opened towards the light.
In execution as well as in forms, this portrait marks a new stage. It is painted in a cooler, more meditative spirit than the head of Chocquet, with greater economy of pigment, pressure and movement, and is more beautiful in substance and tone. The search for clarity and a firmer order determines a smaller, more uniform brush stroke, with a common slanting direction which is subordinate, however, to the power of the larger forms. There is more drawing of shapes - we see this especially in the dark lines defining the curves of the bald brow and the shoulder; but these rhythmical lines, which are so clearly responsive to the neighboring forms, are also notes of color in the grave scheme of interchanged contrasts of dark and light, warm and cool.
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CEZANNE USES HERE several of the elements and devices of an earlier still life - the ornamented drape, the table tilted upward, the large mass of white with many tints. It is also like the still life in the big slant of the dominant form. Yet the effect is very different - a more balanced play of the simple and rich; the stable and unstable. The whole is treated with a breadth that recalls the great Venetian portraits of the Renaissance. The forms are amazingly substantial and well-defined. The bent figure fills her space grandly.
It is a powerfully constructed work, compact and clear, with parts beautifully fitted to each other and to the canvas surface. The tilted mass of the upper body (with right angle at the elbow) is opposed to the rectangular masses of the skirt and drape; yet the vertical and horizontal rarely come to view, and then only in short segments (as in the bracelet and the wall) or as parts of more complex lines. The most stable masses are covered with lines and spots of unarchitectural quality - diagonal, crossed, or curved on the draped table, convergent on the skirt - a typical device of Cezanne's later art by which the severity of construction is softened and opposed qualities are interjoined.
The color is rich, grave, and strong. The simplicity of the large aspect conceals at first the variety of the color relationships that have been employed. The dark blue of the skirt has a different kind of contrast with each of the large areas of color. Its darkness or low value is opposed to the white; its coolness, to the warm complementaries of yellow and orange in the fichu and face; its uniformity or evenness, to the mottled color of the drape; its purity, to the mixed, neutralized brown of the wall. At the same time, the blue mass is harmonized with all these distinct, opposed fields: its convergent stripes reappear in the white sleeve, which is also toned with blue and grey; dark blue lines mark the contours of the face and features and right arm, and there is blue, grey, and black in the fichu; it is tied to the wall, not only through vague green and purple tints within the brown and through the lines of the wall and dado at the left, but through the dark key - there is a progression from the skirt to the purplish dado to the upper wall; and last, the blue area is related to the tablecloth through its similar position and shape, and also through the analogy of lines. Touches of red and green bind the face to the decoration of the drape.
In this analysis of the color, I have ignored other equally interesting aspects, for example, the position and order of these colors, which have an expressive sense - the warmer, closer, more intimate range being in the left half of the picture, the side of revery, and the cooler, but more powerfully contrasted, elements on the right half, the side of the body.
Beautiful too is the refinement with which Cezanne has related the varied inclinations of the large masses in a depth without horizontal planes; the succession of overlapping tilted surfaces between the picture plane and the wall is an exquisite thing. Another subtlety is the handling of the vertical and nearly vertical directions in an unmarked band from the upper wall to the right side of the drape, passing through the head and fichu. I must mention finally the wonderful modeling of the head with its strong accents of the brush - thickly painted blue lines, very considered and precise - which give a sculptural firmness to the contours.
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WITH THIS PAINTING begins the series of great still lifes of Cezanne's middle and late periods. Beside the others, it seems a return to tradition in its studied outlines and great depth of shadow. It seems also one of the most obviously formal in the sober pairing and centering of objects, from the apples on the cloth to the foliate pattern on the wall. But through the color, which has its own pairing of spots, the symmetries of the objects intersect or overlap; the same object belongs then to different groups. The resulting rivalry of axes gives a secret life to the otherwise static whole. In the foreground plane, a dark spot - perhaps the keyhole of the chest - anchors the design and ties the vertical elements above to the horizontal base.
The color is beautifully mellow and rich within its narrow range. In the long passage from light to shade, different in every object, each color unfolds its scale of values in visible steps. How solid the forms emerging in atmosphere, deep shadow, and light through subtle shifts of color from transparent tones to luminous pigment of a wonderful density and force!
Indifferent to the textures of objects, Cezanne recreates in the more palpable texture of paint the degrees of materiality: the opaque, the transparent, the atmospheric, and the surface existence of the pictorial itself in the ornament on the papered wall - the shadow of a shadow, an echo of his own art.
To define the forms in this unstable medium of air and light in which the colors at the contours merge with the surrounding tones applied in similar slanting strokes, Cezanne has drawn dark lines around the objects. More definite than in his other pictures, these outlines are not as uniform and thick as the enclosing lines that later artists derived from them. Gauguin, who owned and passionately admired this still life, reproduced it in the background of a portrait in which he took one of his first steps towards a style of abstracted decorative lines.
Most original in the drawing are the ellipses of the compotier and glass. Just as Cezanne varies the positions, colors, and contours of the fruit, he plays more daringly with the outlines of the vessels. The ellipse of the compotier becomes a unique composite form, flatter below, more arched above, contrary to perspective vision and unlike the symmetrical forms of the glass. In its proportion, it approaches the rectangular divisions of the canvas and in its curves is adapted to the contrasted forms of the apples and grapes, the straight lines of the chest, the curves of the fruit below, and the foliage on the wall. A line drawn around the six apples on the cloth would describe the same curve as the opening of the compotier. If we replace it by the correct perspective form, the compotier would look banal; it would lose the happy effect of stability and masculine strength.
This magnificent painting, at once subtle and strong, has the grave air of a masterpiece of the museums. Like other masterpieces by young artists who aspire to a grand order, it is a little meticulous and stiff. The idea of the work, its method and devices, are more tangible than in Cezanne's later art; but this absorbing seriousness and frankness are part of the charm of the work.
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IT IS A STATUE IN A LANDSCAPE; not of a bather but a man in thought. Completely absorbed in himself, he is welded to his surroundings: the color of his flesh is like the ground, and the shadow tones of blue, violet, and green, the rosy and lightened high lights, are like the water and sky. His great vertical form rests on a world of horizontal bands; verticals and horizontals belong together. The bent arms resemble the sloping rock profile at the right. The opening of the legs is like the fingers of water laid out on a contrasting ground. Besides the symmetry of the rock edge and the bent arm, there is the symmetrical pattern of the segments of sky between the body and the arms and the related belt - a tight construction of upright and horizontal forms. On the belt, the banded lines are seen together with the fingers above them, but also with the banding of the earth at the left - the reddish prongs of the ground which alternate with blue inlets of water.
It is a strange landscape, imagined in the studio, yet natural for the naked figure, his only possible milieu - empty, mostly barren, and delicate like revery. Figure and landscape echo each other and bear the same brushwork, the same substance of color, equally free, spotted, and changing. The main lines of the landscape coincide with divisions of the figure. The upper body is in the sky, the lower is on the earth. Where the knee advances, marked with red, begins a green band of the earth. The bent arms call out luminosities and turbulence in the adjoining sky, like the angels fluttering about a holy figure in old art.
The drawing is an effect of naive searching, an empirical tracing and fitting of the forms, a little awkward yet rhythmical and strong, and finally right; some touches, as in the well-articulated legs, exploit a past study; other parts are more arbitrary and fresh. This drawing, so earnest and free, was a revelation to young artists about 1906 and helped to liberate them. The body is not stylized nor reduced, but reconstructed scrupulously according to an ideal of harmony and strength. It is a drawing without banality or formula, even a new formula.
But is it essentially a "pure form," an "abstract" construction? I do not think so. There is in this monumental bather a complex quality of feeling, not easy to describe. Rigorously tied to the landscape, the figure is nevertheless detached, unaware of the world around him. But the meditativeness is only half the story. The upper body is immobilized by its posture; it looks inward and closes itself. The man walks, yet holds his sides. This upper body is ascetic, angular, strictly symmetrical, and relatively flat, the lower body is more powerful, athletic, fleshy, modeled, and in motion - an open asymmetrical form. Two opposed themes are joined in one body, and this opposition appears also in the character of the sky and earth, one vaporous, the other more stable and solid. The drama of the self, the antagonism of the passions and the contemplative mind, of activity and the isolated passive self, are projected here. The contemplative dominates in the end, but the body remains warm in color, powerfully set, while the world - an enveloping void - is distant and cool.
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A NEW TYPE of still life, of the mid-eighties, with luminous high-keyed colors throughout, in the background as in the objects. The relations of intensities and pure hues come to the fore.
In spite of the greater brightness, the small differences count for more in the harmony and expression of the whole. The sensitiveness is a marvel; to reproduce it perfectly is impossible. Together with the richness of hues goes an incredibly refined gradation of tones. The blue dominant, which is more than a local color - it is a prevailing mood - has a different quality in the vase, the wall, the platter, and the smaller units; observe the flowers and the blue touches on the table, which are contrasted with warmer neutral tones. The blue is an exhalation upward and into depth. The rich green is concentrated in space, the reds, yellows, and whites are in smaller scattered bits - the blue is diffused over a large area. The greys and neutralized tints are toned with yellow or blue in exquisite intervals.
The arrangement is no less interesting than the color and just as refined. It is formal, very deliberate looking, through the dominant theme of the vase, set in the middle between verticals; and through the calculated, naively stiff alignment of objects beside and behind the vase, as if in prescribed rows, parallel and frontal, like pieces on a chess board. But against this apparent rigidity plays the expansive lyrical movement of the bouquet, with its shapeless spots, reaching out to the limits of the space (yet the red, green, white, and blue spots maintain in their positions the perpendicular scaffolding of the whole). The formality is challenged, too, by the strong diagonal behind the vase, so sensitively broken near the vase's edge, and by the details of execution - they are amazingly free, like the details of a distant landscape, yet are so near that one object - the bottle - is cut by the frame. The fine scalloping of the edge of the plate is a pure painting variation in contrast to the smooth strong curve of the vase's shoulder, but seems inspired by the wavy mouth of the same vase. The many tiltings and discontinuities soften the severity of the architecture of the whole. In the fruit, the outlines lie partly outside the object. Such disengaged strokes deny the substance of things and make us more aware of the artist at work - a wonderfully delicate, scrutinizing, weighing, balancing, eye and hand.
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OF THE THREE VERSIONS, this little painting is the last and undoubtedly the best; it is the most monumental and also the most refined. The single shapes are simpler, but the relationships are more varied. The extraordinary conception of the left player is the result of a progressive stabilizing and detachment of this meditating figure.
It is the image of a pure contemplativeness without pathos. Given the symmetry of the two card players looking fixedly at their cards, Cezanne had to surmount the rigidity and obviousness of the pair and yet preserve the gravity of their absorbed attitudes. It is remarkable how thoroughly interesting is this perfectly legible picture, how rich in effective inventions of color and form.
The problem: how to image the figures as naturally symmetrical, with identical roles - each is the other's partner in an agreed opposition - but to express also the life of their separateness, without descending to episode and weakening the pure contemplative quality, so rare in older paintings of the game.
It is accomplished in part by a shift of axis: the left figure is more completely in the picture; his partner, bulkier, more muscular, is marginal - but oddly also nearer to us - and takes up more of the table. His head is bent forward; he is more intensely concerned. The first man is the more habitual player, relaxed and cool, and his long columnar form is contrasted with the horizontal line behind him. The two hats, one with arched brim, firm and poised, the other with turned-up, irregular brim, soft and battered, convey this difference of feeling - two tonalities of meditation. The left player has a bright mind and a sluggish body, the right has a slower mind and a livelier body or temper. The former's arm begins very low, his limbs are detached from the tiny head which is intent but not anxious (it is remote from the body and is like the hat on the head). The other has a hunched effect; if he is ready to play, he is more strained in deciding. The arms of the first are parallel, the other's arms converge. The first head is set against a vague landscape, the second against an architecture of verticals, a more rigid, pressing form which measures the inclination of his body. The long man's face is shaded and lit with inner contrasts that subdue the silhouette; the other's is more open, more fully given. The first has light cards, the second, dark, and his hands are nearer to us. The tablecloth ends in a stable right angle at the left, in a sharply pointed form at the right. The color too is a subtly contrasted expression: violet against yellow, but both neutralized; in the left figure, violet jacket, yellow pants; the converse in the right. The latter is therefore more strongly contrasted with his surroundings in color as well as form. But this contrast is crossed: the straight figure against a sloping chair, the inclined figure against a vertical edge.
The inherent rigidity of the theme is overcome also by the remarkable life of the surface. There is a beautiful flicker and play of small contrasts, an ever-responding sensibility on every inch of canvas.
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ANOTHER SIDE OF CEZANNE comes into fullest play here. This still life is of an imperial sumptuousness. We feel throughout the work the painter's joy in the luxuriance and profusion of colorful things, unconstrained by his meditative habit. The old stabilizing (and detaching) construction - the rectangular framework of the table and the clear plane of the wall - has disappeared. Instead, the space as a whole is draped and richly broken; the difference between depth and surface, the vertical plane and the horizontal, is veiled. Everything comes forward; yet there is also a palpable depth, as in the succession of fruit at the left. We are reminded of the space of the quarry and the mountain in the picture of Mont Sainte-Victoire.
Cezanne seeks here a continuity of elements more complete than in his earlier work. The compotier grows out of the beautiful white cloth, and the decorated jug seems to be a fusion of that cloth with the apples and oranges and the ornamented drape behind it. The effect is dense, even crowded, like his landscapes with woods and rocks, and is enormously rich in unexpected shapes and chords of color, almost to the point of engorgement. It is not at all a "natural" still life - something we might encounter in a home - but a fantastic heaping up of things, in which we discern, however, a clear controlling taste. The complexity of this work belongs both to the pride of a well-exercised masterliness and the delight of the senses. More than most of Cezanne's still lifes, it impresses us as an orchestrated work, because of the wealth of distinct, articulated groups of elements carried across the entire field of the canvas. The white cloth is magnificent in its curving lines, its multiplicity of contrasted directions, its great rise and fall, and in the spectrum delicately toning its brilliant white surface. Against this complication of whiteness and the subdued chords of the mottled drapes (warmer and more angular in ornament at the left, cooler and with curved ornament at the right) play the rich pure notes of the fruit. These are grouped simply, in varying rhythms, and are so disposed as to form together a still life on a horizontal axis - a secret stabilizer among the many sloping shapes. A delightful metaphoric fancy is the decoration of the jug with red and yellow flowers like the nearby fruit; it is a bridge between the fruit and the ornamented drapes, of which the patterns, broken by the folds, are a rich flicker of less intense, contrasting tones.
A characteristic theme in the larger design is a sharply pointed form, which appears in many parts: in the silhouette of the white cloth, in its angles with the table and the edges of the canvas, in the drape at the upper left in the tall, peaked fold, and elsewhere.
Painted during a period when Cezanne produced many powerful images of solitude and unrest, this still life has the same emotional force and masterful inventiveness in the expression of joy.
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CEZANNE PAINTED the Woods with Millstone in the South near his home at Aix. A photograph of the spot proves him remarkably faithful to the encountered scene which offered him an example of a natural chaos with traces of man in the abandoned blocks of quarried stone. But what concern us are the qualities of the picture which are more intense or of another order than those of the original site. The image is of an interior of nature, like a cavern, obstructed and without horizon or exit or outlook beyond, a wild romantic site with something of melancholy and hopelessness, but also the fascination of a huge disorder. It is the grotto of the raging, blinded Polyphemus, strewn with natural and human debris. Only the millstone with its smooth and centered form set oddly in a corner is a note of humanity at home, against which we may measure the turmoil of the other forms. Yet its purity or abstractness of shape makes it seem less human than the roughness of the rocks and trees.
The space as a hollow has no definite form; the tilted ground fuses with the objects that rise from it and with the masses of foliage in a vertical effect like the still lifes of the same time. Lines radiate in different directions from the same axis or cross each other in their opposed movements. It is a painting built of unstable forms, without vertical or horizontal lines, completely un-architectural in spirit. Yet it is a powerfully ordered canvas in which we discover as intense a search for harmony as in the most serene works. Very striking is the pairing of elements: twin trees, twin branches, twin rocks, twin blocks of cut stone, which are composed with an eye to contrast and delicate variation as well. Especially fine is the conception of the graceful trees, twisted and divergent at the left, more smoothly curved and parallel at the right. Within the chaos of the site survives something of a natural order and rhythm.
An interesting invention is the trail of the diagonal on the ground: a shadow line at the extreme right continued in the blocks of stone and resumed in a further shadow line carried to the other end of the canvas. In its slope and fine curvature, in its changing color and branching detail, this line is like the tree trunks and introduces in the ground an element that appears most strongly in the vertical planes.
The color is a somber harmony of brown, violet, green, and grey - mixed tones that belong to an enclosed, sunless world. But this scale is illuminated by a stormy flashing of lights and darks, which also create a powerful modeling. In the rocks are daring divisions of the surface modeled with abrupt contrasts of color. The whole is painted with a wonderful sureness, but also with a passion approaching fury. It is rendered as if by a giant for whom these objects are his most familiar world.
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