On March 25, 2018, the Jane Pickens Theatre will be showing a film titled Exhibition on Screen: Cézanne Portraits of a Life. Prior to the film, our Executive Director, Benedict Leca ,Ph.D., will give an introductory overview of the life of Cézanne. Our staff member Joseph Rusnak recently sat down with Benedict to discuss not only the upcoming film but also just what made Paul Cézanne so unique.
JR: I will be the first to admit that I know very little about Cézanne. What made him so special to the art world?
BL: Cézanne was a freakish talent, an artist who created truly idiosyncratic paintings of peculiar compositions and unexpected colors. They have a force—recognized by everyone from Manet to Jasper Johns—that is very hard to explain. His peculiar handling, made up of rectilinear touches, his formal and spatial dislocations, and his general style of ever greater abstraction, especially his late works, made him a touchstone for just about all major artists that came after, even if the connection was often merely one of self-serving convenience by his successors.
But to put it most simply, he is the point in the timeline of art history where the traditional parameters governing Western painting dating back to the Renaissance—perspective, color, contour, shading, and meaning—begin to dissolve and point in a new direction.
Antoine Dominique Sauveur Aubert, The artists uncle , as a monk, ca. 18
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
JR: That’s fascinating. Speaking of Van Gogh, even today we hear stories of how unsuccessful he was during his career, being barely able to give his paintings away. Did Cézanne go through anything similar or was he always relatively successful?
BL: Despite his avowed disdain for the French bourgeoisie that made up the art loving public that bought art and defined popular taste Cézanne himself issued out of that milieu. His father, Louis-Auguste, was a banker, and although he held his son to a strict allowance well into adulthood, he built him a studio at the family homestead in the 1880s, and left his artist son a substantial inheritance when he died in 1886. In short, Cézanne, unlike the other Impressionists save for Caillebotte, never had to truly worry about money or to sell his pictures. In that sense, he was outside the traditional circuits of art commerce, which enabled him to be freer in his experimentation, hence his comparatively radical style. He worked in relative obscurity throughout most of his career, being known largely only by fellow artists. He became successful in selling his paintings only beginning with the first retrospective in Paris in 1895, but all of that was brokered by his son—and Cézanne didn’t even bother showing up.
JR: If you could pinpoint one or two works by Cézanne that were most influential to up and coming artists what would they be and why?
BL: Cézanne’s over-the-top impasto, a manner which defined his early works such as the Oncle Dominique (Metropolitan Museum, above) have always held in high esteem for painters of all stripes with an interest in the materiality and expressive possibilities of paint. George Condo comes to mind in this respect. Likewise, Cézanne’s late landscapes, such as his very late Mont St Victoire (Phillips Collections, below) have always been lionized as arguably his greatest achievement. The dissolution of the traditional landscape view into floating planes of color can be linked to a slew of artists active after 1950, such as Nicolas de Stael and Richard Diebenkorn.
The Garden at Les Lauves (Le Jardin Des Lauves), ca. 1906
The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
JR: They say that imitation is the finest form of flattery. Last year the Redwood was lucky enough to showcase a work by George Condo which resembled the Cubism style made famous by Picasso. Is there an artist today that best exemplifies Cézanne's artistic style and if so, who?
BL: Odd and distant as they may seem, I often think of the studied photographic compositions of Nan Goldin as being very Cézannian: there is a latent disquiet in her arrangements that are very much in line with Cézanne’s carefully constructed still lifes.
JR: Thank you, Benedict, for taking the time to sit down with me. I look forward to hearing your introduction to the film at the Jane Pickens on March 25.
BL: Anytime, Joe. Thank you.
Exhibition on Screen: Cézanne Portraits of a Life
With an introduction by Benedict Leca, Ph.D
March 25, 2018 at 1:00 pm