Pavel Machotka's Cézanne: Landscape into Art

Excerpts (each begining under a horizontal line) are from Machotka's discussion on these three Cézanne paintings:

Le Lac d'Annecy | Rochers à l'Estaque | L'Église Saint Pierre à Avon

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Le Lac d'Annecy

Fig 59
Fig 60

As powerfully as Cézanne can endow inanimate form with bodily rhythms, his more typical preference is to avoid all the anecdotal suggestion that a motif impose upon the casual observer. Suggestive in just such a manner is a motif one can see from the terrace of a lakeside botel near where he vacationed with his wife in 1896 (Fig. 60). The countryside was unfamiliar to him: alpine, dark blue-green, a haven for wealthy tourists. He was aware of its ordinary appeal: "it is still nature, of course, but a little bit as we have learned to see it in the travel sketchbooks of young ladies."10 The château has a peculiarity that strikes even an unsentimental eye immediately -- the boathouse, whose windows and landing dock look like a face submerged in the water down to its gaping mouth. No part of that suggestion is taken up by Cézanne. He leaves the boathouse wall blank and incorporate roof into the angles of the château roofs; he inserts those in turn into the system of diagonals by which the whole upper half of the canvas is animated. He rests upper half on a stable base constructed of vertical and horizontal touches, and connects the two parts by the deep reflections and the tree at the left.

The blue-green local hue receives its "resonant compass" from division into its components, blue and green. Conceived as separate, the two colors permit a closer integration of the canvas surface: the green patches in the water incorporate the smooth lake into the mosaic of the hills. But the compass is made to resonate even more deeply by the addition of warm pinks, pink-violets, and ochres. 

Cézanne's late style is adumbrated here in part by the tight interlocking of the color abstractions, in part by the very positive painting. In work that comes later, the color patches take different forms: there are diagonally placed patches with sharp upper outlines which overlap emphatically (Forêt, Fig. 133); long, stringy forms composed of vertical touches that lie flat (L'Église de Montigny-sur-Loing, Fig. 135); and stubby, detached patches which barely interlock (Le Jardin des Lauves V. 1610). The touches in this painting are not at that level of abstraction, yet their close integration, broad color range, and affirmative use, are typically late.

Rochers à l'Estaque

Fig 27

Fig 28

It is perhaps the interplay between Cézanne's close attention to the motif and his power of synthesis that strikes the deepest chord. The structure of the solid forms is defined by the motif, while the treatment of the surfaces is shaped, again, by Cézanne's compositional purpose. Painters speak of making a painting "work," and by this they refer to the adjustments that must be made -- sometimes right away, at other times back in the studio -- in order to balance space, shape, and color. Cézanne apparently felt the need to correct the composition for rightward tilt, and must have made two adjustments on the spot: he reduced the size of the rocks in the upper right corner and tilted the horizon to the left. He made several other decisions, all for the sake of balance or clarity, which he could have carried out at any time. For greater clarity and rhythm, he emphasized the correspondence between the distant horizon and the line of hills just below, and even reversed the direction of light on the solitary house so that we might see it better and note its relation to the rock above. Subtly and systematically, he painted the sloping hillside -- which seems to run unchecked toward the lower right -- with parallel touches oriented at right angles to the slope, in this way slowing down the recession and providing a counterbalancing diagonal movement. For stability, he rendered the central rock with stable, vertical strokes.

L'Église Saint Pierre à Avon

Fig 53

Fig 54

A painter freed from the constraints of his imagination -- to reverse the more common metaphor -- has an infinity of visual realities to explore. Cézanne's were for the most part complex and subtle; in oil paintings he usually combined the curvilinear and linear, the soft and the hard. In his pencil drawings and watercolors he was free to explore riskier arrangements, however, and the result could be more one-sided. In L'Église Saint Pierre à Avon (Fig. 54), for example, he explored the interrelations among straight edges and surfaces. Except for the whole right side of  the street, which has been demolished, the motif has remained unchanged; we can see from Cézanne's viewpoint the entire tenth-century portal. Although it intrudes into our comparison, it is a beautiful Romanesque construction in its own right. Cézanne saw the extraordinary interplay of diagonals and for obvious compositional reasons chose not to flatten any of those that recede in space. It is testimony to his vision -- and that of painters in general, although anyone's capacity -- that, when he needed to, he could see sharply receding horizontal edges as lines that function as diagonals in the plane of the paper. The normal tendency is to see them three-dimensionally, therefore as closer to factual horizontal. As soon as they are perceived as flat projections, they can complement and extend the world of diagonals in the facade of the church: a world worth exploring, one may feel, though here perhaps excessively ordered. Once the diagonals had been properly located on the surface, Cézanne could attend to depth in the details. Simply by recording shadows he gave us a precise feel for the hollows, the overlappings, and the convexities of the architecture. By ignoring the color of the roofs, he made us attend to the manner in which the building is built upwards and outwards.

10 Letter of July 21, 1896.