The Burlington Magazine, September
Of the many publications issued to coincide with the recent Cézanne retrospective, one immediately takes its place as an indispensable work on the artist. As its title suggests, Pavel Machotka's Cézanne, Landscape into Art is an investigation of the relationship between Cézanne's landscape motifs and his paintings of them, which consists of a host of new photographs of the artist's sites and, for this alone, constitutes an invaluable addition to our knowledge. More notable than this, however, are the masterly powers of analysis and interpretation that Machotka brings to this material. These explore all aspects of Cézanne's complex dialogue with art and nature - or construction and vision - with a subtlety and insight that constantly remind us that the author is not only a professor of psychology and art but also (like Gowing before him) a practising painter.
For the scholar already familiar with Cézanne's art, the chief revelation of this volume will be the sudden encounter with a wealth of newly identified sites, the majority of them photographed at the same time of day and season of the year as Cézanne's paintings of them - an astonishing testimony to the author's tenacity and resourcefulness in the precarious pursuit of motif-hunting. Here, for the first time, L'Église de village (V. 1531) becomes L'Église de Montiglly-sur-Loing (Figs. 47 and 48) and is dated 1904-05 (rather than l900-04) on the basis of Cézanne's known movements. Other surprises include a photograph of the exact site of the Toledo Allée à Chantilly (V. 627), the Courtauld's wondrous Lac d'Annecy and the water-colours of Le Château de Fonlainlebleau (R. 628) and Une rue à Aix (R. 327), which Machotka has now identified as L'Église Saint-Pierre à Avon. Given the amount of transformation that any landscape site is likely to have undergone in the century since Cézanne confronted it, it is little short of miraculous that so many of his motifs survive so relatively unscathed by the industrial 'progress' that the artist himself so deplored.
Though Rewald and Marschutz published photographs of Cézanne's sites as early as the 1930s, it was only with the appearance Erle Loran's Cézanne's Composition in 1943 that a wide variety of them became available for the general reader. Inevitably, Machotka is forced to rely upon certain of these in cases where Cézanne's motifs are no longer recognisable. In his examination of this evidence, however, he differs radically from Loran and rightly affirms Cézanne's position as the last great painter to work from - rather than merely with - nature.
When Loran wrote, Cézanne was venerated above all as the precursor of Cubism and, by extension, the father of modern art. This was reflected in Loran's own analyses of Cézanne's compositional practices, which repeatedly stressed the degree of spatial distortion and formal manipulation the artist exercised over his subjects, as though already foreshadowing Braque's goal of 'fighting the habit of painting before the motif'. What Machotka succeeds in doing, however, is in restoring 'the primacy of perception' to Cézanne's landscape paintings. While conceding that the artist often made adjustments to his motifs to enhance the unity and aesthetic integrity of his canvases, Machotka reminds us of the even more complex strategies that Cézanne employed in order to ensure that he remained essentially faithful to his subjects when transforming them into a picture.
One of these was his very choice of site and his preferred viewing angle: frontal, central, avoiding strong receding diagonals and favouring, instead, prevailing horizontals and verticals. (In this regard, there is no more revealing photographic comparison in Machotka's book than that between two views of a rocky ridge at the Château Noir, both taken from the same spot, one precipitously imbalanced and the other already recommending itself as ordered, stable, and self-contained enough to warrant the artist's attention.) Others include the prevailing colour harmonies ol the motif and the extent to which these were modified by changing atmospheric conditions. As Machotka acknowledges, careful judgment of all of these often determined the sucecss or failure of one of the artist's landscape compositions. Where Cézanne found these wanting, he introduced subtle modifications of structure or tonality that served better the needs of his picture. Viewed alongside photographs of the motifs, however, these constitute minor alterations intendedd to remind us that the artist never remained tyrannised by his subjects; as Cézanne himself confessed, 'art is a harmony which runs parallel with nature'.
There is little with which to take issue in this rich and inspiring volume, though one might have wished for a few more photographs of sites that Cézanne rejected; and, to this reviewer at least, the date of c.l898 assigned to La Sainte-Victoire vue des Infernets (V. 664) seems six to eight years too late. Otherwise, Machotka is unfailingly astute. In illuminating 'asides' on the problems posed by the artist's early subject pictures or on the emotional crisis he experienced in 1885-86 - when he wilfully sought a degree of compositional certainty in his landscape subjects (so lacking in his life) - the author reveals a sympathy and understanding of his subject that are rarely to be found in more straightforward monographs. For all of these reasons, this beautifully produced and handsomely illustrated volume is essential reading for the Cézanne enthusiast. One can only hope that Machotka will now turn his attentions towards a more all-embracing account of the artist's achievement.