13 February 2009


I have never liked the impressionists. Instead I prefer those who came before, inspiring and informing them - Degas and Manet for example, and those who were influenced but individual, such as Cézanne. I'm currently reading a book about Cézanne's watercolours which is the inspiration for this post.

Cézanne was actually ridiculed for his drawing and painting abilites when he first moved to Paris. And looking back over his early sketches it's clear that they were awkward, yet as he developed his belief that he could put the whole design of the universe in the drawing of an apple, or any ordinary thing, his drawing developed a sensitivity of line and his paintings, though still extraordinary in their use of colour, were subdued and tamed.

Self Portrait, by Cezanne

That he did achieve his aim of drawing the universe in an apple is beyond question in my opinion: his late paintings depict the sublime and it is this which makes them so arresting as well as his method of using colour to depict form. His paintings are both deeply and fully observed representations of the world, yet abstracted at the same time.

Mostly we know him through his oil paintings now, but his watercolours also reward time spent with them. He uses a similar technique of paint application as he did with oils, the paint is applied in small strokes and build up to represent planes, but the application is looser and the soft translucent watercolours glow with an almost ethereal softness.

Mill at the River, by Cezanne

Large areas are often left unpainted, (unforuntately I haven't got an example to show you) allowing the paintings and sketches to breathe. And again there is the unique, masterful ability to produce work which is at once both representational and abstract.

How did he do this? I mean, of course we can see the brushstrokes, study the technique if we wish, even attempt to make copies and apply those techniques to our paintings but would they capture the sublime? I doubt it. How he drew and painted, the style he developed, was the result of so many factors: his sensitivity, his rejection by his peers, his determination, his belief in his goal and his obsessive nature which drove him to continue even though he was ridiculed.

This has been a very brief look at Cézanne, I hope you've enjoyed it.

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