Paul Cézanne

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Painting must give us the flavour of nature’s eternity.

Paul Cézanne (1839-01-191906-10-22) was a French Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th century conception of artistic endeavour to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and the early 20th century's new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism.

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Art has a harmony which parallels that of nature. The people who tell you that the artist is always inferior to nature are idiots! He is parallel to it.
I want to express myself clearly when I paint. In people who feign ignorance there is a kind of barbarism even more detestable than the academic kind: it’s no longer possible to be ignorant today.


  • Painting must give us the flavour of nature’s eternity. Everything, you understand. So I join together nature’s straying hands.. ..From all sides, here there and everywhere, I select colours, tones and shades; I set them down, I bring them together.. ..They make lines, they become objects – rocks, trees – without my thinking about them.. ..But if there is the slightest distraction, the slightest hitch, above all if I interpret too much one day, if I’m carried away today by a theory which contradicts yesterday’s, if I think while I’m painting, if I meddle, then woosh!, everything goed to pieces.
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 148


  • Art has a harmony which parallels that of nature. The people who tell you that the artist is always inferior to nature are idiots! He is parallel to it. Unless, of course, he deliberately intervenes. His whole aim must be silence. He must silence all the voices of prejudice within him, he must forget.. ..And then the entire landscape will engrave itself on the sensitive plate of his being.
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 150


  • Nature as it is seen and nature as it is felt, the nature that is there.. (he pointed towards the green and blue plain, J. G.) and the nature that is here (he tapped his forehead, J. G.) both of which have to fuse in order to endure, to live that life, half human and half divine, which is the life of art or, if you will .. the life of god. The landscape is reflected, humanized, rationalized within me. I objectivize it, project it, fix it on my canvas…
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 150


  • Colour is the place where our brain and the universe meet. That’s why colour appears so entirely dramatic, to true painters. Look at Sainte-Victoire there (the hill Cézanne painted frequently, fh) How it soars, how imperiously it thirsts for the sun!. ..For a long time I was quite unable to paint Sainte-Victoire; I had no idea to go about it because, like others who just look at it, I imagined the shadow to be concave, whereas in fact it’s convex, it disperses outward from the centre. Instead of accumulating, it evaporates, becomes fluid, bluish, participating in the movements of the surrounding air.
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 153


  • Painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realizing sensations.
    • What I know or have seen of his life, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 46


  • Yes, a bunch of carrots, observed directly, painted simply in the personal way one sees it, worth more than the Ecole’s everlasting slices of buttered bread, that tobacco-juice painting, slavishly done by the book? The day is coming when a single original carrot will give birth to a revolution.
    • What I know or have seen of his life, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 68


  • Here you are, put this somewhere, on your work table. You must always have this before your eyes.. ..It’s a new order of painting. Our Renaissance starts here.. ..There’s a pictorial truth in things. This rose and this white lead us to it by a path hitherto unknown to our sensibility.. (on a photo of the painting ‘Olypmpia’ of Manet, fh)
    • What I know or have seen of his life, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 71


  • This will be my picture, the one I shall leave behind.. ..But the centre? Where is the centre? I can’t find the centre.. ..Tell me, what shall I group it all around? Ah, Poussin's arabesque! He knew all about that. In the London ‘Bacchanal’, in the Louvre ‘Flora’ (both paintings of Poussin, Cézanne admired, fh), where does the line of the figures and the landscape begin, where does it finish.. ..It’s all one. There is no centre. Personally I would like something like a hole, a ray of light, an invisible sun to keep an eye on my figures, to bathe them, care them, intensify them.. ..in the middle (remark on one of his paintings ‘The Bathers’, fh)
    • What I know or have seen of his life, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 78


  • See how the light tenderly love the apricots, it takes them over completely, enters into their pulp, light them from all sides! But it is miserly with the peaches and light only one side of them.
    • Fumées dans la campagne, Edmonmd Jaloux, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 119 (note 2)


  • Personally I would like to have pupils, a studio, pass on my love to them, work with them, without teaching them anything.. ..A convent, a monastery, a phalanstery of painting where one could train together.. ..but no programme, no instruction in painting.. ..drawing is still alright, it doesn’t count, but painting – the way to learn is to look at the masters, above all at nature, and to watch other people painting..
    • What I know or have seen of his life, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 124


  • Alas, because I’m no longer innocent. We’re civilized beings. Whether we like it or not, we have the cares and concerns of classical civilization in our bones. I want to express myself clearly when I paint. In people who feign ignorance there is a kind of barbarism even more detestable than the academic kind: it’s no longer possible to be ignorant today. One no longer is. We come into the world armed with facility. Facility is the death of art and we must rid ourselves of it.
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 155


  • In that Renaisance (Cellini, Tintoretto, Titian..) there was an explosion of unique truthfulness, a love of painting and form.. ..Then come the Jesuits and everything is formal; everything has to be taught and learned. It required a revolution for nature to be rediscovered; for Delacroix to paint his beach at Etratat, Corot his roman rubble, Courbet his forest scenes and his waves. And how miserable slow that revolution was, how many stages it had to go through!.. ..These artists had not yet discovered that nature has more to do with depth than with surfaces. I can tell you, you can do things tot the surface.. ..but by going deep you automatically go to the truth. You feel a healthy need to be truthful. You’d rather strip your canvas right down than invent or imagine a detail. You want to know.
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 pp. 157-158


  • ..But there is better. Simplicity, being direct. Everything else is just a game, just building castles in the sky. Basically I don’t think of anything when I paint. I see colours. I strive with joy to convey them on to my canvas just as I see them. They arrange themselves as they choose, any old way. Sometimes that makes a picture. I’m brainless animal. Very content if I could be just that..
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 pp. 158-159


  • ..and wanting to force nature to say things, making trees twist and rocks frown, as Gustave Doré does, or even painting it like Leornardo da Vinci, that’s literature too. There’s logic of colour, damn it all! The painter owes allegiance to that alone. Never to the logic of the brain; if he abandons himself to that logic, he’s lost.. ..Painting is first and foremost an optical affaire. The stuff of our art is there, in what our eyes are thinking.. ..If you respect nature, it will always unravel its meaning for you.
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 161


  • Colour, if I may say so, is biological. Colour is alive and colour alone makes things come alive.. ..Without losing any part of myself, I need to get back to that instinct, so that these colours in the scattered fields signify an idea to me, just as to them they signify a crop. Confronted by a yellow, they spontaneously feel the harvesting activity required of them, just as I, when faced with the same ripening tint..
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 162


  • Treat nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone, the whole put into perspective so that each side of an object, or of a plane, leads towards a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon give breadth, whether a sections of nature, or, if you prefer, of the spectacle which Pater omnipotens aeterne Deus unfolds before your eyes. Lines perpendicular to this horizon give depth.. ..Everything I am telling you (Joachim Gasquet, fh) about - the sphere, the cone, cylinder, concave shadow – on mornings when I’m tired these notions of mine get me going, they stimulate me, I soon forget them once I start using my eyes.
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 pp. 163-164


  • But what an eye Monet has, the most prodigious eye since painting began! I raise my hat to him. As for Courbet, he already had the image in his eye, ready-made. Monet used to visit him, you know, in his early days. . ..But a touch of green, believe me, is enough to give us a landscape, just as a flesh tone will translate a face for us..
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 pp. 164


  • That is why, perhaps, all of us derive Pisarro. He had the good luck to be born in the West Indies, where he learned how to draw without a teacher. He told me all about it. In 1865 he was already cutting out black, bitumen, raw sienna and the ochre’s. That’s a fact. Never paint with anything but the three primary colours and their derivatives. , he used to say me. Yes, he was the first Impressionist.
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 164


  • Monet’s cliffs will survive as a prodigious series, as will a hundred others of his canvases.. ..He’ll be in the Louvre, for sure, alongside Constable and Turner. Damn it, he’s even greater. He painted the iridescence of the earth. He’s painted water. Remember those Rouen cathedrals (Monet painted, fh).. ..But where everything slips away in these pictures of Monet's, nowadays we must insert a solidity, a framework..
    • What he told me – The motif, Joachim Gasquet, as quoted in Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 p. 165


  • …This is what happens, unquestionably – I am positive: an optical sensation is produced in our visual organ, which leads us classify as light, half-tone or quarter-tone, the planes represented by sensations of color. (Thus the light does not exist for the painter.) As long as, inevitably, one proceeds from black to white, the former of these abstractions being a kind of point of rest both for eye and brain, we flounder about, we cannot achieve self-mastery, get possession of ourselves. During this period (I tend to repeat myself, inevitably) we turn to the admirable works (here: the five great Venetian painters as Titian and Tintoretto, ed.) handed down to us through the ages, in which we find comfort and support…
    • a letter to Émile Bernhard, 23 December 1904, as quoted in "Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock", Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 184


  • The point to be made clear is that, whatever may be our temperament, or our power in the presence of nature, we have to render what we actually see, forgetting everything that appeared before our own time. Which, I think, should enable the artist to express his personality to the full, be it large or small. Now that I am an old man, about seventy, the sensations of colour which produce light give rise to abstractions that prevent me from covering my canvas, and from trying to define the outlines of objects when their points of contact are tenuous and delicate; with the result that my image or picture is incomplete. For another thing, the planes become confused, superimposed; hence Neo-Impressionism, where everything is outlined in black, an error which must be uncompromisingly rejected. And nature, if consulted, shows us how to achieve this aim.
    • a letter to Émile Bernhard, 23 October 1905, as quoted in "Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock", Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 180


  • Alas! The memories that are swallowed up in the abyss of the years! I’m all alone now+ I would never be able to escape from the self-seeking of human kind anyway. Now it’s theft, conceit, infatuation, and now it’s rapine or seizure of one’s production. But Nature is very beautiful. They can’t take that away from me. (the last conversation Vollard had with Cezanne, ed.)
    • artist quotes, Cézanne, from a conversation in Cézanne’s studio in Aix, the End of 1905; as quoted in "Cézanne", Ambroise Vollard, Dover publications Inc. New York, 1984, p. 112


  • I still work with difficulty, but I seem to get along. That is the important thing to me. Sensations form the foundation of my work, and they are imperishable, I think. Moreover, I am getting rid of that devil who, as you know, used to stand behind me and forced me at will to “imitate”; he’s not even dangerous any more. (one week later Cezanne died, ed.)
    • the last letter to his son Paul, Aix, 15 October 1906; as quoted in "Cézanne", Ambroise Vollard, Dover publications Inc. New York, 1984, p. 112

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