There is a reason I continually visit Provence and its simply because I want to be near the mastery of Paul Cézanne. I have never known a more evocative artist, one that plays with light and mood in a way that is both romantic and dramatic but awfully quiet. The current exhibition at the Tate Modern is exquisite; I mean I have been to see it at least twice since its opening and will go back to see it a few more times. He painted ordinary life and infused it with the extraordinary, there is an emotion behind every stroke, fruits, apples being the most prominent, his gardener which is my second favourite of his, his son, my favourite and mount Saint Victoire which on a good day is visible from his studio in Aix which you ought to visit.
Cézanne has that presence in art, especially post mortem, that most artists often seem to refer to in their works, intentionally or not, no matter how ephemeral. He brings his works to life in that rare way that things need not be explained to be understood; the table cloths stylistically folded around fruit bowls, the fruit tottering on the edge of a table as if it just rolled across; indeed we can see it rolling across in our minds’ eye. And yet, yet, movement remains stilted when you take a closer look at the tight strokes and continuous rhythm, movement so slow, and so deliberate, you see the motion unfold. Every stroke, precise and functional.
Besides the painting of his son, Madam Cézanne is another one of my favourite works of his because it reminds me so much of my favourite Whistler; Whistler’s Mother, the austere expression and the impatience even in such a still setting; her hands close together, hair tight in a bun, lips pressed together…it is alive yet so still. The painting of his gardener; Le Jardinier Vallier is one I find utterly charming a still figure sat cross legged topped with a hat. Vallier was a gardener and man Friday who did odd jobs for Cézanne at his home near Aix. This particular portrait is my second favourite in the series he painted of him, likely painted in 1906, shortly before Cézanne’s death in October of the same year. Cézanne’s signature deliberate method is present here, capturing every tone in exacting detail, but more important is the warmth he brings to the painting; the shades, the reflections of light by deliberately overlapping strokes giving presence to Vallier who looks like he’d just arrived to start his work when Monsieur Cézanne asked him to sit for the painting.
You cannot help but want to run your hands through each work, especially the still life; take a fruit, pop some of the sugar from the sugar bowl into your tea, feel the patterns of the fluted bowl… this here is the true mastery of Cézanne, a man with the ability to make you feel his painting many centuries later.