AN AMERICAN scholar who has
spent 30 years following in the footsteps of Cézanne has tracked
down the settings for a dozen of his best-known paintings.
Pavel Machotka, Professor
of Psychology and Art at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has
dated and retitled some pictures after finding locations in Provence and
on the outskirts of Paris.
One of his discoveries, as
he travelled through France seeking to match hundreds of photocopied images
to places, was that a church which had long been assumed to be in Aix-en-Provence
was at Montigny-sur-Loing, in the north.
For decades, its ambiguous
title was no more than Village Church. Professor Machotka said that
it could have been any one of a hundred similar churches in France. Drawing
on the locals for guidance, his detective work led him to the building.
As a surprising number of
landscapes have remained as Cézanne would have known them, the professor
was able to find clusters of trees or groups of stone houses set against
rocky landscapes, and to take colour photographs of them in the same light
that Cézanne painted them.
He recalled how he found
the Rocks at Estaque, sculpted by nature: "The rock formation had
never been seen before.
"It was obviously a bay at
Marseilles, but nobody had found the formation. The motif is unchanged
except for high-tension wires. It was extraordinary.
"I was looking at what Cézanne
was looking at. After several hours of climbing, I had found the site."
The professor's findings
are published this week by Yale University Press, coinciding with the exhibition
at the Tate Gallery that opens on Thursday. The first Cézanne retrospective
since 1936, it is expected to be one of the gallery's most successful shows.
First Call, the advance booking
agency, has already broken records set by ticket sales for the Monet exhibition
and the Tate is preparing for some 300,000 visitors, at a conservative
estimate. Cézanne sold barely any of his works and was not given
a solo show until he was in his late fifties. Matisse would have thought
the show was long overdue: in his eyes, Cézanne was a "god of painting".
Among some 90 paintings and
70 watercolours to be seen at the Tate are images that Professor Machotka
matched to their locations. Using colour photographs, he was able to explore
physical surface, colour relationships and the extent to which Cézanne
was painting exactly what his eye was seeing.
"Cézanne had a passionate
attachment to visual reality," he said. "Unlike other scholars who have
viewed Cézanne as an early Cubist, I view him as a painter determined
to extract as many visual resonances between the components of the motifs
For example, in taking a
colour photograph of La Montagne Saint-Victoire at 9.30am, something
that had never been done before, he was able to show the gradual progression
of colours from blues to greens which the master subtly incorporated into
his painting and the shadows which he transformed into dramatic diagonal,
In The Lake at Annecy,
one of Cézanne's most famous images, lent by the Courtauld Institute
Galleries to the Tate, Professor Machotka's first photograph of the scene
shows how similar it is today. A composition that was formerly titled La
Saint-Victoire, Environs de Gardanne, he has retitled as Hamlet
near Gardanne. He was able to pinpoint its isolated location "by searching
for places where a hillside might intersect with the foot of the Sainte-Victoire;
by a gradual approximation, I eventually found the hamlet at the end of
a narrow road. Cézanne placed his easel at the edge of a field."
He added that to judge by the low sun and the brown meadows, Cézanne
had painted it late in the year and at 10.30am.
The professor said: "A photograph
of the site of a well-known painting arouses our curiosity right away:
it breaks open the sealed world of the landscape canvas, situates the artist
in a place and a moment, and reminds us that an artist searches, gazes,
at times disembles, and recombines. It also encourages the hope that we
will better understand the artist's purpose and vision."
It was impossible to find
some sites, particularly those in Paris, which had changed beyond recognition,
or the town of St Henri, near Marseilles, whose charming streets had been
bulldozed to make way for motorways.