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Nine approaches to still life: Cezanne

I. I want to astonish Paris with an apple." -- Paul Cezanne II. Again and again, he painted them. An ideal subject for a shy, private man. Models, he said, frightened him a bit. Ah, but applesm . . . a china bowl. . . a yellow table and crisp white linen. . . . In their presence, the painter could unleash his eyes. Beneath his gaze, even apples could drop their timidity and become. . . mountains, planets, children, voices, meteors.

A group of apples arranged on a table, sometimes in twos and threes like knots of gossip in the marketplace . . . in solemn congregations of six and eight, rising from the turmoil of a white cloth like flames . . . mounting red/gold one after another from a china bowl like a monument to morning . . .

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Apples that only ripen in the mind's raw October. Apples of granite. Apples of colored tissues, finer than a moth's wing. Smooth pale baby-cheeked Pippins; red Jonathans, brazen as roses. Apples dissolving into strokes of light with one bite.

III. "My eyes are so stuck to the point of view I am looking at that I believe thay are going to bleed . . . I and my painting are one. We are an irridescent chaos . . . Sunshine invades me like some distant friend to warm my laziness and to impregnate it . . . "

The visual deception of portraying a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional plane is a test of an artist's craft. Cezanne slowly abandoned the test. Instead, he married the spirit of the scene to his own spirit; he carried the layers of his vision onto the blank canvas. The apples and vase are rounded, full-bodied . . . but at the same time, curiously thin. The still life has depth . . . but not the true depth of realm life. In this foreshortened view , the table, fruit, vase, commode, all rush upon one another. The breathing room has been removed; the placement is not the order of nature but the composition of the eye. We approach this scene from several perspectives at once: eyes level with the drawer, yet looking down on the fruit; looking overm one vase but into the other. The table dangerously bows forward to display its possessions; the apples hover like gold-leafed angels.

Everything Cezanne has seen and explored has been transferred to the painted surface. If at first our eyes insist on the ordinary fruit, cloth, bowl -- soon we are caught by the extraordinary rushes of yellow and red, white versus brown, painted designs on the screen of imagination.

IV. Dear Mssr. Cezanne,

Mssr. Julien from town asked me to bring this package out to you. It is the canvas you ordered from Paris. I left it in the kitchen beside the commode.

Hope you don't mind. Borrowed an apple from the pile. They looked so sweet, I could not resist. And it tasted better than it looked.

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Your neighbor


V. "Still Life." The title is somewhat in- appropriate for a vision that won't sit still. The shapes glide across one another; the boundaries between objects dissolve; even within a simple apple, a passion of color tones struggle to maintain their round form. His classical training told the artist to close the form, define the object. But his whole experience gave him a world of colors in motion.

In Cezanne's work, the weight, depth, value of a brushtoke is the same for a mountain, a woman's shoulder, a red fruit. Both the full and empty spaces . . . the subjects and the air surrounding them -- were painted with equal force. All things became one in the nature of his canvas.

VI. Pere Tanguy, the color grinder, traded new art materials for a painter's finished work. He had a human empathy for the Impressionists and -- by advancing them credit and collecting their art -- became their first benefactor. His was their first "gallery" as well, for one could browse his art supply store and see Van Goghs, Monets, Bonnards, Gauguins, lining the walls. He had an uncomplicated system of appraisal for his Cezannes: the "large" paintings he sold for 100 francs; the "small" ones for 60.

VII. That night, Cezanne's neighbor dreamt of an apple orchard, ripening inside him . . . buds and flowers . . . green leaves and dappled fruit . . . black crows roaring in the air . . . and apple after apple after apple falling through his sleep like tender yellow stars.m

VIII. When someone posed for Cezanne, they prepared for an ordeal. The artist would tolerate no distraction -- not the subject's squirming nor the intrusion of the outside world. Cezanne devoured the model with his eyes before a single brushtroke reached the canvas. Each sitting would last between two and three hours. For the poortrait of Ambroise Vollard, one hundred and fifteen sittings were required.

The artist's wife and son were frequent models. They tolerated his demands because of their love; they were convinced poor Paul was completely talentless and perhaps slightly deranged.

Ah, but to be alone with a tableful of apples . . . to arrange and experiment . . . to stare unreservedly until the being of the artist merged. Surely, the harmonies of color and design are a form of living.

IX. The flattened perspective, the cross- hatched brushwork, the emotional character of colors (separate from the objects they represent), the multiple visions melded into one form . . . With Cezanne's experiments, the seeds of twentieth century art were planted. The world's eyes had been dramatically changed.

Leger, Braque, Picasso; the Cubists, Expressionists, contemporary artists of many schools; even you and I -- are Cezanne's neighbors. And the suspicion proves true: the apple tastes even sweeter than it looks.

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