Cézanne in Germany: Proof of enduring fascination
If we are thinking about Cezanne’s exhibition where there are some exquisite things: still lifes with a faultless finish, others very worked out and yet left halfway through. However the latter are even more beautiful than the former you also find landscapes, nudes, heads left unfinished yet truly grandiose. They are so painterly-, so lithe… why? Because there is sensation there!1
lt is with these words that Pissarro descrbed his first impressions upon visiting the first major Cezanne retrospective. at Vollard’s Gallery in 1895. What surprised me as I was walking through the exhibition of Cezanne’s paintings held at the Kunsthalle Tubirgen2 was how fresh and appropriate these words could still sound, nearly a centrry after the first major retrospective of the artist’s work. Bearing these words in mind, one couid note the extraordinary densely and visual impact of Still life with a waterjug (Tate Gallery) or of The preparation for the feast (Acquavella Modern Art, New York), despite the fact that the two latter workr were ‘left half way through’, when seen back in the context of other ‘irreproachably finished’ works such as Still life with a ginger pot, gourd and aubergine (Metropolitan Museum of Art) or Stiil life with a ginger pot, sugar bowl and apples (private collection on Ioan to the Kunsthaus, Zurrich). As Pissarro aptly noted, the conventional distinction between finished and unfinished becomes obsolete when applied to Cezanne since, irrespective of their degree of finish, his works appear as both grandiose and visually gripping.
It has become a traditional approach to Cezanne’s work to link it to the modemist movement (Picasso, Braque) for which it was allegedly the propulsive force, and backward with the Trecento or with Poussin’s work3 which it purportedly, in Cezanne’s own words, ‘revivified’. Although the argument is not unconvincing, this approach oddly enough brackets out the whole complex aspect of Cezanne’s involved exchanges with his contemporaries the impressionists. It is certainly one of the very salutory and rewarding aspects of the present exhibition at it addresses this issue in an almost paradigmatic way by placing side by side two paintings by Cezanne depicting the same Chateau Noir (1904-6).a One of them usually hangs on the walls MoMA the other in the Musee Picasso. Besides the fact that this extraordinary pair seems to address in a purely C6zannian idiom the question of series painting,5 the notable particularity of these two works.lies in the identities of those who owned them: one (no. 95) belonged to Monet; the other (no. 96) belonged to Picasso. I was transfixed by these two works endeavouring to imagine what both Picasso and Monet, almost at the same time and in the privacy of their studios, could see in these two neariy identical works painted by C6zanne in the last two years of his life.
The pairing of these paintings, besides the sheer visual fascination it exerts, stresses the by now traditional opposition between the artist’s logique and his optique.6 Precisely emphasizing this paradox of Cezanne’s work Emile Bemard, remembering Cezanne’s famous dictum about Monet (‘only an eye, but what an eye!’), concluded ironically that Cezanne’s vision ‘was much more in his brain than in his eye’.7 The truth as distinctly displayed on the walls of the Kunsthalle Tubingen, is that Cezanne’s art may, and probably must, appear as both intensely visual (physical)8 and conceptual (coldly calculated).9 The two aspects are not incompatible, they are complementary and are poignantly reconciled in Tubingen. His art is sensual and cerebral; tactile and technical. In this sense, it can be said that the Tubingen show is a tribute to the completeness of Cezanne’s art. By looking at these two paintings, and then at the whole show one understands not only Monet’s and Picasso’s shared fascination for Cezanne’s work,10 one also comes to terms with both Pissarro’s own comments, emphasizing the powerful charm of Cezanne’s work over all the impressionists (Renoir, Degas, Monet in particular) and with Bernard’s comments pointing to the ‘revolutionary’ impact of Cezanne’s art on the next generations.11
The exhibition ‘Cezanne Gemalde’ does not tell a monolithic story: this is its strength. We are not told about Cezanne’s baroque beginnings; nor are we told about Cezanne’s modernism, post-modernism, nor impressionism. The exhibition is not hung chronologically; nor, due to the architecture of the Kunsthalle’s exhibition room, is there a single direction in which one can follow the course or progression of the exhibition. One may very easily, as I did, accidentally miss out totally the room of the beginning years and come back to it later-after the Mont Sante-Victoire series.
With ninety-seven Paintings by Cezanne this show offers us a selection of the artist’s oeuvre, comprehensive of each period in his work, intensly rich with colours intircately interwoven with formal and compositional problems and packed with pictorial reflections.
The wall of six Portraits of Madame Cezanne (Hortense Fiquet) was utterly breathtaking and will remain unforgettable-the touching monumentality of each picture individually and all of the portrait seen together became all the more obvious as one enjoyed the luxury of observing the gamut of simple procedures to which Cezanne resorted throughout this astonishing campaign. The juxtaposition of the Metropolitan portrait, which has a rather more complex, fragmented and agitated surface, with the Sio Paulo portrait, with its totally bare wall, the innocent, almost vir- ginal expression of the sittet, and the overall sobriety of the composition, constitutes one of the high points of the show.
The wall opposite, with its stiil lifes, also offered the rare opportunity of examining together four compositions which seem intrinsically linked.” Equally, the juxtaposition of the Courtauld and the Orsay Card Players was another highlight which is all too seldom possible. Another rewarding moment of the exhibition came as one was able to observe together four views of l’Estaque. The Helsinki painting displayed paradigmatically the artist’s ‘constructive brushwork’ while offer ing a densely compact surface, covered in layers of paint added over each other, and at the same time so fragmented into small regular units of paint that it points the almost inevitable way towards Seurat’s work, a few years later. One could have wished to see the phenomenal La mer d I’Estaque from the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, in the same room with the infrequently seen early view of l’Estaque from the Rau Foundatiory, the eerie, lunar-like Estaque landscape from Sao Paulo, the leathery, thickly empastoed surface, of the other painting of the same view owned by Picasso, as well as the Helsinki painting (respectively no. 72 and nos.19,22, 23 and 29 in the catalogue). Instead the Karlsruhe painting was seen among a room of late and very late landscapes, among which the row of Mont Saint-Victoires.13
Finally, a small group of five Bathers paintings could be seen as closing the exhibition by echoing the Detroit and the Stuttgart Bathers seen in another room (Catalogue nos. 79-83 and 33 and 34). Thus the exhibition was almost structured so as to reflect Cezanne’s own pictorial practice: certain themes were echoed from room to room, from decade to decade; others were grouped together into intense, obsessive sets. In their Vorwort,rn Adriani and Feilchenfeldt point out that this exhibition closes the Kunsthalle Tubingen’s cycle of Cezanne exhibitions which started in I978 with a show of his drawings and followed in 1982 with a show of his watercolours. But this exhibition opens another cycle: in only two years two international exhibitions devoted to Cezanne, will follow and complement each other15 pursuing the path reopened by the Tubingen show, and demonstrating further that the fascination with Cezanne’s work lives on.
The exhibition ‘Cizanne Gemalde’ was at the Kunsthalle Tubingen from 16 January to 2 May.