Modern Art and the Object: A Century of Changing Attitudes

By Ellen H. Johnson | Go to book overview

2 The Object Painted and the
Painted Object in Quiet Collision

Cézanne's Truth

I owe you the truth in painting.

CÉZANNE

Cézanne's never-ending humble and heroic search for truth is the moral condition of his art and a primary source of its greatness. His truth, like Wordsworth's, is the truth of art 'in the keeping of the senses'. In his faithfulness both to nature and to art, his synthesis of minute visual sensation with a grandeur of formal construction, Cézanne stands alone. Austere and difficult of access as his work may be on first encounter, prolonged contemplation slowly reveals his delicate exactitude and the depth of his feeling for nature, which to him meant 'man, woman, and still-life' as well as landscape.

Although Cézanne almost never dated his paintings and it is difficult to assign dates to them with precision, certain crucial changes serve to divide his work into a few fairly distinct phases. The early paintings, of the I860s, are violent expressions of his dark, tortured imagination, his unfulfilled eroticism, and the anxieties springing from the repressive hand of his father and from his own despair of realizing the grandeur of his dreams. Such themes as the temptation of St Anthony, rape, murder and even the portraits, picnics, landscapes, still lifes and the translations from other art, are painted with brutal power. They can also be as astonishingly elegant as the Still Life with Black Clock (Stavros S. Niarchos, Paris). Crude and even grotesque as the youthful paintings have appeared to some critics, they are monumental pre-expressionist images whose dramatic contrasts of black and white intensify the red, blue or green areas and whose dense surfaces, tempestuously built up with the brush and knife, harken back to Goya and herald de Kooning. Clearly Cézanne's early painting owes much to Delacroix, and its heavy, sensuous paint even exceeds that of another of his masters, Courbet.

This couillarde technique, as Cézanne termed it, was abandoned in his impressionist phase, which began in about 1872 when he made the first of several visits to Auvers and Pontoise. Here, in close association with Pissarro, he learned to relate his painting more to the evidence of his eyes and to register what he saw by means of short, separate strokes of fresh colour. That this shift in direction from interior to exterior vision was of decisive importance in developing

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Modern Art and the Object: A Century of Changing Attitudes
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface to the Revised Edition 7
  • Preface 9
  • 1 - Modern Art and the Object from Nineteenth-Century Nature Painting to Conceptual Art 10
  • 2 - The Object Painted and the Painted Object in Quiet Collision 65
  • 3 'the Mountain in the Painting and the Painting in the Mountain' 78
  • 4 - The Painting Freed 97
  • 5 'I Am Nature' 110
  • 6 - Object as Art 135
  • 7 - Art as Object 171
  • 8 - The Object in Jeopardy 196
  • 9 - Women Reshaping the Object 216
  • Notes 261
  • List of Illustrations 273
  • List of Figures 280
  • Acknowledgments 281
  • Index 283
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