Cézanne Review – Gags, Mountains and Murders in a stunning and devastating show | art


sOl Cézanne’s sketchbook open to a childlike drawing of a long, curved house. It turns out that he often let his young son use it. This openness to children’s play says a lot about a man, not just as a parent. For Cézanne, he was the first Western artist since the Middle Ages to claim the freedom of a child to depict things exactly as he pleased.

Throughout the glass case containing this sketchbook are Cézanne’s paintings of plump houses intertwined in patterns of squares and triangles, in brown and yellow. These are the premises of L’Estaque, a seaside village west of Marseille, where Cézanne often stayed with his family – and where Cubism was invented. As early as 1878, in The Sea at L’Estaque behind the trees, the house’s walls and rooftops form a jagged array of flat but rugged shapes like the abstract looks of the things they Pablo Picasso And the George Braque He will get the title of cubism for painting after 30 years. They were proud to claim the effect. Look at the poster and you’ll see that this was on loan from the Musée National Picasso-Paris, because it was owned by Pablo. For his part, Braque painted his Cubist paintings in 1908 at L’Estaque itself, in direct homage to Cézanne.

However, not only is Cézanne deconstructing tradition in his Cubist house in a patient and calm manner. The Bay of Marseille, seen from L’Estaque, painted circa 1885, takes so many liberties that your mind gets dizzy. Beyond the factory’s diamond-shaped chimney is a blue sea that looks as hard as quartz. While the water looks solid, the hills behind it seem to have melted. Cézanne says that drawing can reshape the textures of the very objects. It is intentional and subjective, like a child’s drawing. It is fun to do.

The Gulf of Marseille, viewed from L'Estaque, circa 1885.
Taking liberties… The Gulf of Marseille, visible from L’Estaque, c1885. Photo: LWM/Art/Alamy

Cézanne the good guy? For a long time after his death in 1906, he was a symbol of absolute seriousness in art, his paintings analyzed as philosophical enigmas, and his legacy claimed by the most intense avant-garde pioneers. However, there is a cunning sense of humor at the heart of his genius.

For example, are you sure that life is still like that? Cézanne paints arrangements of bottles, plates, and fruits that not only appear to be in danger of unraveling because they balance on the edges of the table, but in many cases cannot be fixed the way he presents them. In his 1893-4 Still Life with a Ginger Jar and Eggplants, lemons are suspended in space, their yellow figure apparently standing proud of the blue curtains that cascade down like a waterfall. Here you see how she inspired Cézanne Matisse, because he can define the shape with pure color, in ways that free things from gravity. In the same plate, a plate of pears is flipped sideways, sliding toward the blue void, yet somehow staying in place.

Laughing...Still life with plaster of Cupid (c1894).
Laughing…Still life with plaster of Cupid (c1894). Photo: The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

He definitely laughs. It looks like he’s playing balls In curved spacetime with his apple. And it’s not just the laws of physics that make jokes. Still Life With Plaster Cupid (c1894) has not only an apple that refuses to descend from a steep slope, but two onions with long cotyledons, positioned so as to indicate the missing rod of a cupid cast from plaster.

This muzzle is a reminder that, despite the ingenuity and authority of Cézanne’s later art, he was still the restless Bohemian he was in his youth. The show begins with a puzzle: One of Cézanne’s matured lives is accompanied by an insecure and uncomfortable self-portrait from circa 1875, looking faintly at us against a pink wallpaper. How did this man produce this art?

Born in Aix-en-Provence in 1839, Cézanne went to school with Émile Zola, who created the naturalistic novel. Also, Cézanne’s early art was quite raw. In The Murder (1867-70), a large character holds a woman with chubby arms while the other raises a knife to stab her. It’s more as if Cézanne might be tackling psychological problems in The Eternal Feminine, from about 1877, in which a naked woman sits on a throne, bleeding from her blind eyes and surrounded by a gruesome crowd of male worshipers, including an artist.

Young Cézanne expresses corrupt ideas about sex and death as freely as the poet and critic Baudelaire, who argued that the “painter of modern life” should be an observer of the contemporary. The Negro Scipio, a painting of a black model from 1867, inhabits the man’s curls in the manner of that artist Ellen Gallagher He argues, in a catalog article and mural text, that it may have been intended to suggest the skin of a enslaved man’s back.

It is usual to tell the story of Cézanne’s development from this turbulent early work to the calm and subsequent discipline he achieved, but nudity never ceased to amaze him – and his images of nudes never settled in evolution. An entire room of his later nude portraits shows that he is still obsessed with awkward visions of the female body in his 1885-1887 painting Five Baths, in which a group of women created by his imagination just for him meet in a misty melting landscape. And in Bathers, from 1890-92, a gang of young men was doing the same.

A devastating epilogue ... Mont-Saint-Victoire 1902-6.
A devastating epilogue … Mont-Saint-Victoire 1902-6. Photo: Tate

These are not real nudes but fake dreams in the afternoon heat of Provence. Just as Cézanne’s sailor is so solid and lemons float in mid-air, his bathers are his strongest confirmation that art creates the world, not copies it.

Yet there is a world. If Cézanne begins attacking reality with paint, he ends up discovering that the only truth he can know is his own. Each broken brushstroke of Mont Sainte-Victoire that marks the show’s devastating end is a document of the subjective way we all see and understand the world. But the mountain itself is always there – a big part of the truth. He is obsessed with him for reasons we can only guess. The beautiful and touching thing about this artist is how he deconstructs reality without ever stopping to pay attention to it. This makes looking at his art one of the most exciting and unusual experiences you can have in a gallery – or anywhere.


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