Monday, 24 January 2011

The Cézanne book

I said I’d bought the catalogue -- a lavish and lovely production and value for money, I’d say -- and I turned to the chapter by Richard Shiff, ‘He Painted’, in the hope that it would tell me more than its title. It starts rather uninterestingly, for me, about Cézanne’s early reputation, but soon starts to say some helpful stuff, first by quotes and then in his own explanations.

So, Duret (1906) calls his technique, ‘strokes next to each other, then on top of each other’ - as if ‘he lays his painting with bricks’. Then Shiff asserts that ‘the historical trajectory’ of this technique (Courbet, perhaps) ‘need not engage the forces driving social history at any given time.’ (So somebody suggests or could suggest it might? interesting....) ‘The possibility of aligning aesthetic and social stars hardly motivated Cézanne’ (so it might, or did, others? I’d like to know more -- should read more art books....)

Then there’s stuff on whether Cézanne dehumanises his figures -- again, not something that worries me. This concern comes from Meyer Schapiro (1952), who then is quoted with this lovely formulation about The Card Players: ‘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.’ Shiff comments that ‘fllicker’ is right, and it is, and says that it has the effect of making the surface appear to ‘warp’, which it does.

Then, to my delight, he confirms that, as I said in the first post, Cézanne’s marks aren’t all representational: ‘Yet Cézanne’s characteristic warp does not necessarily adhere to the representational anatomy or the logical arrangement of a figure in the space of a room.’ Rather what happens is an ‘insistent sequencing of parallel marks and alternating colours’, regardless of ‘the depicted subject’.

What follows is then terrific and just the sort of art criticism I need. Best if I try to reproduce a couple of pages. Start at the second para on p.79. Click on images to enlarge.

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