Paul Cezanne, an artist of many facets
Q.- Recently, Isabel del Rio has been in Paris, one of her beloved cities and she has returned enthusiastic about Paul Cezanne. May I ask why?
A.- Well, I think every great old artist has a place in the roots of our soul, but each period of our life is nearer to one or other of them. Sometimes, it’s a cause of the topics, which are in relation with the events of our life; other times, it’s due to the sensation that the artwork transmitted to us (happiness, peace, sorrow…) because we are living this same sensation in that moment; and there are other inexplicable causes, near our deepest dreams and unconscious feelings, which compel us to focus on a determinate artist. This time, when I went to d’Orsay and I saw the Card Players by Paul Cezanne, I was absolutely absorbed by its pure forms and peculiar lights, by its warm colors (ochre, red, yellow) that contrast with a cold scene of two sad peasants from Aix-en-Provence (Cezanne’s town) playing cards. Anyway, we need always to discover the hidden meanings of Cezanne’s figures, and in my opinion the whole painting is a metaphor of life. Then they play sadly cards because they are sadly playing with their unfortunate cards. I’m not in a sad period of my life but nice painters as Botticelli or Matisse, for example, are now far of my feelings. Maybe I’m getting older.
Q.- As you know, in February, Qatar bought another version of the Card Players by Cezanne for $250 million, highest price ever for a work of art. Is Cezanne in vogue?
A.- Well, only five Card Players exist, and the other four are in world-class collections such as the Courtauld, the Barnes Foundation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the cited Museum d’Orsay. This purchase for that tiny oil-rich country is the latest Qatar’s effort to become a cultural center and this is positive as well as the fact of spread the Western culture in Asia. Anyway, Paul Cezanne has been in vogue from 1870, because Cezanne inspired Fauvism and Cubism, and he presaged abstract art. Picasso called him “the father of us all”, and absolute genius!
Q.- In your opinion, why did Picasso admire Cezanne so much?
I think Picasso is the last ancient artist (as Einstein in physics) a cause of his relation with art learning. He studied all of the great old masters from the beginning and when he arrived at Paris (the center of art in that time), he studied the new tendencies: Impressionism (too superficial in his opinion), Fauvism (Matisse will be his friend) and… Cezanne.
Picasso was looking for being the father of a new movement. In Madrid, he had studied Velazquez and Goya, but he understood El Greco could be the origin of something different, because El Greco in the 16th century was already breaking the perspective as the Cubism will do. However, Cezanne and his pure forms and his heavy strokes, which will become perfect facets in his last period (painting with watercolor) will be the other great influence of Picasso. Of course, the parallel works by Juan Gris and Braque too.
Q.- And how about the influences of Cezanne?
During years, he worked isolated. Then, most of his work is the result of introspection. But, of course, he had teachers. He went to school in Aix, forming a close friendship with the novelist Emile Zola. From 1859 to 1861, he studied Law but at the same time he attended drawing classes in spite of the implacable resistance of his father. It was in 1861 when he joined Zola in Paris, really fond of Impressionism movement. Then, Paul Cezanne knew the Impressionist group and although he remained an outsider of the group he did a mutually helpful association with Camille Pissarro with whom he painted outside Paris at Auvers assimilating the principles of color and lighting of Impressionism. Anyway, he retained his own sense of mass and the interaction of planes: see “House of the Hanged Man” in the Musee d’Orsay too. Afterwards, he would exhibit with the group in 1874 and in 1877.
Q.- Well, to conclude, could you name some of your favorite paintings by Cezanne?
There are so many! From 1865 to 1870, during his “romantic” period, I would choose “The Rape” and “the Murder”, extremely personal in character and in topics of violence.
In the late 1870s Cezanne entered the phase known as “constructive”, his series of paintings titled Card Players are from this period. Living isolated in Aix he concentrated on a few basic subjects: still lifes with apples, statuary, and tablecloths but I like also his studies of bathers. The landscapes of the final years in watercolor are also awesome: “Gardanne” in The Brooklyn Museum, NY, or “House and Trees in The Barnes Foundation. By the time of his death in 1906, Cezanne’s art had begun to be a fundamental influence.
-Many thanks, Isabel
You are welcome, John