Cézanne in the Shadow of Frenhofer
The power of the fable of Frenhofer was unremitting in Cézanne's life. During the period when he was still exploring divergent approaches to painting, between his twenty-seventh and thirtieth years (1866-69), he amused himself by answering questions in a little eight-page booklet entitled My Confidences . The album, probably provided by a friend in Aix and decorated with the furbelows dear to the nineteenth-century middle classes, posed twenty-four questions of preferences ranging from favourite smells, flowers and food to favourite painters and writers. To the question: What character from literature or the theatre are you most drawn to? Cézanne had replied Frenhofer. At around the same period, he made two small sketches of a seventeenth-century artist before an easel bearing a painting of a female nude. In one of the sketches the cast of the painter's head suggests that Cézanne was thinking of Rembrandt, while in the other, the painter indicates his painting to a young onlooker who might well have been Poussin. The Unknown Masterpiece was on Cézanne's mind.
He was even more powerfully drawn to the Frenhofer fable in his old age. If he could identify himself with Frenhofer with such overwhelming emotion as he did in the scene reported by Emile Bernard, it was evidently a culmination of a lifetime of serious attention to the story. In his own complex nature Cézanne bore traits of all three of the painters Balzac had portrayed. Like Poussin he had been intrepidly rebellious in his youth. Later, he had learned the importance of direct experience, as had the middle-aged Porbus. Finally, like Frenhofer, he had secretly committed himself to an impossible ideal - to what he had called, in a letter to Monet, the 'chimerical pursuit of art'. Of these three painters, it was Frenhofer to whom Cézanne was most drawn, as he said in the album, and whose example he most feared. Frenhofer's excessive idealism, so familiar to Cézanne, was to be a constant warning; a worrisome tendency in himself that he watched with anxiety. Cézanne not only saw himself in Frenhofer, but he also registered the arguments in Balzac's fable as poles or referents to which he returned throughout his life. He easily understood Balzac's depressing comment that doubt covers everything with its waves. To the question in the album: What is your greatest aspiration? he answered 'certainty'. But doubt was his lifelong companion, and it was that aspect of his personality that permitted later generations to recognize him as a thoroughly modern artist. Picasso identified the Frenhofer in Cézanne when
he told us, 'It's not what an artist does that counts, but what he is . Cézanne would never have interested me a bit if he had lived and thought like Jacques Emile Blanche, even if the apple he painted had been ten times as beautiful. What forces our interest is Cézanne's anxiety - that's Cézanne's lesson.'
Many writers have echoed Picasso's observation but have offered different explanations of its source and meaning. To the frequent suggestion that Cézanne was anxious to discover the underlying structure of forms, Meyer Schapiro responded that we must see what is there. Too much stress on the invisible structures distorts Cézanne's anxious quest for an accurate rendering of what he saw. Gauguin, on the other hand, was convinced that Cézanne was a mystic: 'Look at Cézanne, that misunderstood man whose nature is essentially mystical and oriental . . .' Gauguin instinctively seized upon the Frenhofer conflict when he wrote to Pissarro: 'If he discovers the prescription for compressing the intense expression of all his sensations into a unique procedure, try to make him talk in his sleep.' Schapiro sees Cézanne as a man in whom 'the self is always present, poised between sensing and knowing, or between his perceptions and a practical ordering activity, mastering its inner world by mastering something beyond itself'. Gauguin saw him as a mystic seeking, like an alchemist, a unique synthesizing procedure. Both views hold, for the highest forms of paradox functioned in Cézanne. If, in the end, he seemed to have achieved the balance Schapiro perceived between sensing and knowing, he himself was never convinced. His early encounter with Frenhofer remained paramount. The tempted idealist hovering on the brink of the abyss was as much a part of him as the workmanlike painter of the motif.
Cézanne's irregular development as a painter was one of the sources of his anxiety. His restlessness, his wild exploratory tendencies, his unwillingness to adopt the received ideas of his day were traits that he recognized early and fretted about, as we know from his letters. At the same time, he recognized that his character, his 'temperament', was his richest resource. Much of his behaviour as a young painter newly arrived in Paris can be attributed to the strong experiences of his adolescence which, in Cézanne's case, always seem to have been vivid in his memory, and always served him as goads in his later years. Those experiences included not only the active life of the rambling romantic schoolboy foraging among the rural splendours of Aix with his friend Zola, but also the contemplative life of the reader. Cézanne was an attentive, serious reader to whom the significant phrases that had moved him in his youth returned again and again in his life. He was not, as the French like to say, bête comme un peintre , but rather sought confirmation of his temperament in a wide spectrum of reading. When very young he had been stirred by the poetry of Victor Hugo and Alfred de Musset, the romantics who were the modern poets of his time. But he was also an enthusiastic Latinist, reading Lucretius and Virgil and trying in his own voluminous schoolboy verses to capture Virgil's style. When he discovered Baudelaire he recognized his greatness, and throughout his life reread both the poetry and the essays.
Cézanne's periodical returns to texts that were once important to him are well documented, not only by those to whom he spoke in casual conversation, but in his letters. In 1896 he reported that he was rereading Virgil and Lucretius. In the last year of his life he wrote to his son that he was rereading Baudelaire's L'Art Romantique and remarked, 'one of the great ones is Baudelaire'. When he experienced intense moments of unhappiness Cézanne often retrieved quotations; after falling in love with his mother's maid in 1885, he remembered Virgil's 'Trahit sua quemque voluptas'. Those who had more than a passing acquaintance with Cézanne always marvelled at his ability to quote long passages from the ancients and to recite entire poems by Baudelaire. Given his serious attention to what he read as a youth, it is reasonable to assume that The Unknown Masterpiece , to which he referred so often in conversation, had engraved itself deeply on his mind. The voices of the generation that Balzac had so deftly recorded entered Cézanne's spirit and participated in his own acute argument with painting and nature.
When an experience cut deep with Cézanne, as happened so often in his adolescence and youth, he kept it alive. As a boy in Aix, for example, he had been attracted to a painting in the museum attributed to Louis Le Nain called The Card Players . Late in life, he himself undertook to paint the subject in several versions, and was still talking admiringly of Le Nain to Bernard in 1906. When he saw Manet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe and his Olympia , he was sufficiently disturbed to undertake parodic variations of both paintings, and referred to Manet's works frequently all the rest of his life. In his conversations with young painters at the end, he often referred to the shock Manet had administered, both to Cézanne himself and to the establishment. Sometimes he spoke mockingly, but most often with a respect that indicated the powerful impression Manet had made on him.
Of all his encounters with paintings during his early years in Paris, it was his experience of Delacroix that most moved and challenged him. The vision of Delacroix both as painter and as meditator on painting never dimmed for Cézanne. The palpable reflection of Delacroix in Balzac's fable strengthened his commitment. Cézanne was no fool, as he was fond of reminding his correspondents and acquaintances. He knew quite well that the ideals Delacroix represented had given way before the vigorous assaults of the newly selfconscious avant-garde - first, Courbet's assertions concerning realism and then the Impressionists themselves, among whom Cézanne occasionally located himself. He was well aware that, as Baudelaire had said in The Painter of Modern Life and other works, an artist must be 'modern' and he fully accepted the principle. But the example of Delacroix, and his attitudes towards painting, some of which Cézanne found reflected in The Unknown Masterpiece , were congenial to Cézanne's temperament, which could not be satisfied with the materialistic emphases of his own epoch. Nurtured in the romantic tradition, with its confused but nonetheless principled point of view, he was loath to part with the fundamental ideals no matter how often he made forays into the 'modern' view.
During the turbulent early years in Paris when Cézanne wavered between a violent romanticism and the more 'analytic' (as Zola called them) attitudes of
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his contemporaries, he strengthened his conviction that only 'temperament' could propel an artist. His special notion of temperament, born in a turmoil of emotional responses to life and to painting, was quite out of keeping with the spirit of his youthful colleagues. They also used the term, but far more conservatively. For Cézanne, temperament was identified with an elemental force - the force that Balzac's generation flatly referred to as genius. In his student years in Paris, Cézanne's 'temperament' expressed itself in the strange, troubled, expressionist fantasies he painted with so much agony. His 'temperament' led to his rejection at the Académie des Beaux-Arts where the examiner reported, 'He paints riotously', an adjective Balzac had used about Frenhofer. Tenebrous scenes, such as the scene of murder in which the violence is underscored by the use of deep blues and blackish clouds, seemed to Cézanne to express his temperament during the 1860s. The ideal of temperamental force, which, although reshaped during his mature painting years, always came first for Cézanne, made him remark to Guillemet: 'Don't you think your Corot is somewhat lacking in temperament?' Cézanne believed, as he often said, that the painter has to have 'quelque chose dans l'estomac'. The image of Frenhofer, gripped in his passion to realize a vision, was Cézanne's. He was as eager to reject the accommodations of the juste-milieu mentality as any of Balzac's heroes and he did it, often, by means of deliberately coarse language. The most frequently reported phrase used to fend off sycophantic admirers would be equivalent to 'a painter has to have balls'. Even if, during the months he spent with Pissarro at Pontoise in 1871 and 1872, Cézanne found a means of calming his eruptive temperament by applying the disciplines inherent in Pissarro's impressionist method, he never relinquished his original vision of the driving force, the dynamic and irresistible aspect of temperament which he would later try to reconcile with the need for what Rilke called 'work of the hand'. The conflicts so urgently described in The Unknown Masterpiece were intense in Cézanne's youth and revisited him in his last years.
Cézanne was in his late twenties when he did little sketches presumed to be of Frenhofer. During the same period (1866-69), he sketched illustrations for his other supremely important reading experience - Baudelaire's poem in Les Fleurs du Mal , 'Une Charogne'. The poem - one of the most violent, searing images in Baudelaire's entire œuvre - was to remain with Cézanne. In his old age he sometimes recited it to youthful admirers, always with emotion. It is not difficult to understand Cézanne's initial response to the poem. Preoccupied as he was during those years with fearful visions, the grotesque description in Baudelaire's poem of a rotting, maggot-ridden carrion in the hot sun would have excited him. His little sketch of a rather dandyish top-hatted young man (Baudelaire himself) gingerly poking the carcass with his cane, while a young woman leans away, shielding herself from the stench, shows his interest in coming to terms with such monstrous experiences. But there was more for Cézanne in Baudelaire's poem. Certainly the opening stanzas, with their sharp juxtaposition of a beautiful summer morning and the sudden view of 'a filthy carrion . . . legs in the air, like a lascivious woman, burning and sweating poisons', appealed to Cézanne's
sense of melodrama during those early years. The mordant realism in the description, on the other hand, satisfied the general feeling Cézanne shared with his contemporaries that the old romantic poetry was too remote and refined, lacking, as he might have said, 'quelque chose dans l'estomac'. In his earlier reading of the poem, perhaps the almost vindictive tone of the poet who addresses his companion as his soul, his angel, but nonetheless concludes by reminding her that she, too, will one day be such putrid ordure, spoke to Cézanne. A certain savage tone that recalls Baudelaire's had invaded one of his own verses. On the back of a sketch for his Homage to Delacroix , probably around 1875, he had echoed Baudelaire's acrid ironies in a scrawled verse:
Here is the young woman with rounded buttocks
How nicely she stretches out in the middle of the meadow
Her supple body, splendidly extended.
The adder is not more sinuously curved.
And the beaming sun gently casts
A few golden rays on this lovely meat.
Yet Baudelaire's poem, as Cézanne certainly knew later, was important in another more philosophical sense. The message of Victor Hugo, relayed through The Unknown Masterpiece , was that everything in nature, even the grotesque, must be reckoned with by the artist. Baudelaire confirms Hugo's attitude, but goes further. In a stanza which must certainly have commended itself especially to Cézanne, Baudelaire, after having described the teeming world of flies and larvae in the horse's belly, a world which 'gave out a strange music, like flowing water and wind', continues:
The forms faded and were no more than a dream,
A sketch slow to come
On the forgotten canvas, and which the artist completes
Only by memory.
In his later years, these lines probably summoned for Cézanne his struggle with both nature and the nature of painting. Once having perceived the forms - all those minuscule details among which Cézanne foraged for the essences - he too found his sketch slow to come. Painting quite often struck him as no more than a dream, or 'chimerical'. All the while, during his middle period, when he was painstakingly developing his method, restraining his hand and peering at nature until, as he said, his eyeballs seemed afire, he bore the dark lesson of 'Une Charogne' in mind. His alternately exalted and disconsolate remarks late in his life could well have resolved themselves in Baudelaire's final line: 'I have kept the form and the divine essence of my decomposed loves.'
Finally Baudelaire's insight, and Cézanne's, deposited them in that realm sometimes called objective, in which an heroic and unflinching gaze at the unthinkable results in a transcending vision of the universe. While Cézanne's vision was intensifying during the last years, the young poet Rilke was reacting similarly. In The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge he wrote about Baudelaire and 'Une Charogne': 'What should he have done after that happened to him? It was his task to see in this terrible thing, seeming to be
only repulsive, that existence which is valid among all that exists. Choice or refusal there is none.'
Cézanne's need, not only to gaze at the world unflinchingly, but also to compose a vision of the universe, separated him from his contemporaries, and at times threw him back - with anxious glances - to the past. He continually checked himself against the past, sensing the limitations of late nineteenth-century attitudes. Aside from his sustained reverence for Delacroix and the Venetians, Cézanne frequently expressed interest in scores of painters of the past. He was consistently attracted to the ideas that had dominated the period in which Balzac wrote The Unknown Masterpiece and adjusted his reactions to his own times with judicious salvaging from the romantic past. The attitude of the major artists of the Impressionist movement during the 1870s and 1880s was one of irritation against the numerous epigones who had managed to make a juste-milieu Impressionism. Monet and Renoir grumbled, and Degas said, 'They are flying with our wings.' Cézanne, who was always jealous of his independence, distanced himself. Although he remained grateful to Pissarro who had so generously prompted him, he had already embarked on his quest in which the ideals of the previous epoch were to be sustained. Not only did he continue to scan the work of the painterly Venetians and little masters of the Netherlands, but he also noted carefully the romantic or expressionist tendencies in French painting of his period. 'He often talked of the caricaturists Gavarni, Forain and above all Daumier,' Maurice Denis said. 'He liked the exuberance of movement, relief of muscular forms, impetuosity of hand, bravura of handling.' In his arguments with both realism and Impressionism, Cézanne held in mind the emotional alternatives.
Cézanne's heroic spiritual development was as dramatic as the substance of Balzac's fable. For Cézanne, the great problem was to avoid the sin of pride (abstraction) which was yet implicit in his temperamental urge to the absolute. Frenhofer's hubris was a frightening warning to Cézanne, who nonetheless deeply respected the obsessions that motivated Frenhofer. The lesson of real-life Poussin, repeated by Porbus, was never to pass beyond the bounds of nature, and Cézanne was convinced of the fateful truth of that dictum. Yet the aging Cézanne, as he tremblingly indicated to Bernard, was also Frenhofer. There are innumerable quotations from Cézanne himself both about practical or technical painting matters and about moral attitudes which echo Balzac's text. When the young Léo Larguier visited him in 1900 and dined in the austere dining room in which, he said, there were no bibelots, no special amenities, he reported that Cézanne spoke only of his 'perpetual torment', and that many of his remarks about his work seemed paraphrases of Frenhofer.
Remarkable parallels can be found between Cézanne's position on drawing and Frenhofer's impassioned lecture. Frenhofer says the human body is not bounded by lines and that, strictly speaking, drawing does not exist. 'The line is the method by which man expresses the effect of light upon objects; but there are no lines in nature, where everything is rounded; it is in modelling that one draws . . .' Larguier quotes several similar comments by Cézanne:
To the degree that one paints, one draws. The precision of tone gives at once the light and the modelling of the object.
Line and modelling don't exist. Drawing is a rapport of contrasts, or simply the rapport of two tones, black and white.
Pure drawing is abstraction. The drawing and the colour are not distinct, everything in nature being coloured.
There are still more startling correspondences between Frenhofer's theory and Cézanne's. One of Cézanne's most frequently cited letters to Bernard points out that in an orange, an apple, a ball, a head, there is a culminating point and this point is always, despite the tremendous effect of light and shade and sensation of colour, the closest to our eye. Frenhofer, after his initial lecture on drawing, says: 'It may be we ought not to draw a single line, perhaps it would be better to attack a figure in the middle, giving one's attention first to the parts that stand out most prominently in the light . . .'
Bernard quotes Cézanne:
There is no such thing as line or modelling: there are only contrasts. These are not contrasts of light and dark, but the contrasts given by the sensation of colour. Modelling is the outcome of the exact relationship of tones. When they are harmoniously juxtaposed and complete, the picture develops modelling of its own accord.
And in the same passage Cézanne's words recall the final words of Frenhofer's lecture on drawing: 'Observe that too much knowledge, like ignorance, leads to negation.' Cézanne: 'One must eschew the literary spirit which is so often divergent from the true voice of painting: the concrete study of nature in order not to get lost too long in interminable speculations.'
Porbus's calm voice also prompted Cézanne. Porbus had told young Poussin: 'There is something truer than all of this; namely, that practice and observation are everything to a painter, and that, if rhetoric and poetry quarrel with the brush, we reach the doubting stage like this good man who is as much a madman as a painter.'
Not only technical matters in The Unknown Masterpiece point to its significance for Cézanne; there are also temperamental commitments. Cézanne's early recognition of Delacroix's genius may well have coincided with his reading of the Balzac tale. How deeply he revered Delacroix is apparent in the story of his encounter with Victor Choquet around 1875 or 1876. Choquet owned some twenty canvases by Delacroix, and innumerable watercolours. He invited Cézanne to see his collection, and spread the watercolours on the floor. Cézanne, we are told, wept with Choquet over them. Although Cézanne was frequently reported to have wept in his last years, a trait which commentators attributed to his obsessive work habits, his isolation and his illness, he had always had the gift of deep emotions. The important moments of insight in his life were always accompanied by uncontrollable emotion. He was given to excesses of despair, during which he destroyed his canvases or threw them into his garden. He often took flight abruptly, either from social gatherings, or from intimate conversations. The story that he wept over Delacroix's watercolours while he was still in his vigorous thirties, is perfectly credible. His long admiration for Delacroix was
expressed frequently all through his life, and he cherished his project - never completed - of painting an Apotheosis in homage. When Vollard presented him with a Delacroix watercolour of flowers in 1902, Cézanne carefully preserved it from the sunlight, and set about making a sensitive copy in which he sought to capture the shapes and light contrasts in the manner prescribed by Delacroix himself. (In his late versions of Bathers , the principles of Delacroix, who often used the flowing draperies in his figure studies as independently expressive structural elements, are still predominant. Cézanne uses trees and water rather than draperies, but the shapes are still the dominating components.) Cézanne's feeling for Delacroix was probably stronger than his feeling for Poussin, the other voice in Balzac's fable, but his respect for Poussin's grandeur remained. When he said he would do Poussin after nature he spoke from a long meditation, beginning with his copies of Poussin in the Louvre and bolstered by his readings. He certainly seemed to know Poussin's dicta, if not directly, then reflected in Balzac's story, and be continued copying from Poussin even in his old age when he worked from photographs in his studio on studies from Poussin's Shepherds in Arcadia .
His copies after Delacroix and Poussin often reflect Cézanne's ambivalent attitudes towards the role of effects and accidents. Frenhofer had scornfully denounced the young painter's insistence on effects, which he called the accidents of life and not life itself. He says that Porbus stops short before appearances and doesn't 'go down far enough into the intimate knowledge of form'. Cézanne, with his painstaking scan of details, carefully avoided the large generalizations that made for effect, and sought instead the kind of unity that Frenhofer described with his brush, as it 'touched all different parts of the picture'. Bearing in mind the dangers of Frenhofer's absolutism, and repeating often, as he did to Camoin in 1903, that contact with the great masters was important but 'we must hasten out and by contact with nature revive within ourselves the instincts, the artistic sensations which live in us', Cézanne nonetheless reserved a part of himself for Frenhofer's strongest message-that the whole of the painting is a greater spiritual entity than its parts. He wrote to Camoin in 1904: 'What you must strive to achieve is a good method of construction . . . Michelangelo is a constructor, and Raphael an artist who, great as he may be, is always tied to the model.'
Frenhofer's practical remarks remained with Cézanne. The preoccupation with the unity of the painting is epitomized in Frenhofer's criticism of Porbus's female nude which is 'glued to the canvas', a silhouette with a single face, a cut-out figure. One couldn't walk around her. The 'air' which came to mean so much to Cézanne is implicit in all Frenhofer's remarks. (Cézanne: 'But nature, for us men, is more depth than surface, whence the necessity of introducing in our vibrations of light - represented by reds and yellows - a sufficient quantity of blue to give the feeling of air.') Frenhofer's own conundrums became Cézanne's. On the one hand, Frenhofer firmly believed that the mission of art was not to copy nature but to give expression to it. On the other, he pressed even further than the expression to an absolute statement beyond the appearance of nature. His beclouded abstraction, with only the perfect foot to remind us of the appearance of nature, stands for Cézanne's
own conflicting drives. Cézanne's formation as a nineteenth-century man included the notions of earlier thinkers concerning the organic, instinctive role of the artist who, as he said, 'must create work as an almond tree its blossom or a snail its slime'. His basic respect for modem ideas about man as a part of nature is tempered by an old notion, close to Balzac's, that the artist is somehow, in his role as interpreter, more than nature. 'Anyone who wants to paint should read Bacon', he told Vollard. 'He defined the artist as homo additus naturae. ' Implicit in his method was the idea of attention - an attention so intense that it transcended the object. Poussin had pointed out that there are two ways of looking at objects: one is quite simply to see them, the other is to consider them with attention. And Picasso had understood the nature of Cézanne's attention when he said, 'If Cézanne is Cézanne, it's precisely because of that: when he is before a tree he looks attentively at what he has before his eyes; he looks at it fixedly, like a hunter lining up the animal he wants to kill. If he has a leaf he doesn't let it go. Having the leaf, he has the branch. And the tree won't escape him . . .' Yet such attention, as Cézanne knew with his 'perpetual torment', can be drastically transformed into a kind of abstract reverie where the artist is no longer sure of what he has before him or how it is to be transformed by his eye and hand. In his last years, surely, Cézanne's doubts assailed him at every step. The old arguments became more insistent and at times he must certainly have feared that he had truly become Frenhofer. At that moment when he tearfully designated himself Frenhofer to Bernard, who was Frenhofer to Cézanne?
For all his belief in Porbus's opinion that a painter should meditate only with the brush, Cézanne remained a spiritually uneasy man. Like Frenhofer, he was a man of doubt, 'searching higher and further'. His need to reconcile discrete elements and to create a totality is obvious in his last paintings, in which his emotional intensity, moving from fearful darkness to the light of his 'realization', brings him to the threshold of the Baudelairean conception of universal correspondences. In his last years, Cézanne sought increasingly to realize relationships of real things - that is, in their materiality - in terms of their myriad relationships, or correspondences. Drapes corresponded to mountains, skies to waters, walls to skies. In the end, all forms for Cézanne were there only to be related, or realized. In his late paintings of the Chateau Noir, the equation of sky to ground is deliberately emphasized by bringing the greens of the foreground into the sky. The version in the Jacques Koerfer collection has a rhyming scheme of both colour and shape that courses over the entire canvas. Details such as foliage, tree trunks, windows merge in the tapestried surface while the precious 'air' that Cézanne so highly valued circulates in literally empty spaces where the white of the canvas elides the forms. This painting led Adrian Stokes to rhapsodize:
Certainly this Chateau Noir picture and some of the last landscapes of Mont Sainte-Victoire display the original Dionysiac, stubborn fire at the height of Apollonian splendour. In the representation of the steeply-treed chateau capped by the summit of Mont Sainte-Victoire, we may feel there are present the potent domes and deep-set grottoes of an ageless romance.
Stokes's invocation of the Dionysiac element in Cézanne's final years, with its suggestion of struggle towards the light of Apollonian splendour is most appropriate. Not only was Cézanne recasting his vision of the universe in the late works, but he was struggling with the paradoxes Frenhofer had succumbed to. His self-sustained idealism, which never permitted him to forsake the notion that there was a 'higher and further', led him to conceive of paintings themselves as descriptive of a universe in which all is related and held within a rhyming scheme that transcends even vision. The 'deep-set grottoes of an ageless romance' that Stokes found in the Château Noir painting appeared everywhere, even in the late still-lifes. The mysteries that all painters experience when they try to place forms, or objects, in the illusionary space of painting, when they try to locate the distances from here to there, emerge in these tremendous late works. The metaphors are complex. In Still-life with Teapot (Cardiff) the low horizon, the long waves of the rug supporting the still-life course against a low horizon like the sea. The same figured rug in the Still-lift with Apples and Peaches becomes a host of forms. It is like a rampart, like one of the abstract draperies in Delacroix's paintings, as it moves against the crepuscular light of the background. Above all, it forms a deep grotto or nest isolating the pitcher in its own imaginary space, and it tunnels back as the fruits recede into a deep space. The vast distance between pitcher and bowl is filled with darting allusions. Seeking the depths, the Dionysiac fire, as Stokes says, Cézanne had stepped beyond the limits of his intense observation, making a universe that was more 'real' in its idealism than anything he could have achieved during his middle years. No doubt when he spoke of 'realizing' his sensations he felt as did his model, Delacroix, who pointed out that 'What are most real to me are the illusions that I create with my painting. The rest is shifting sand.'
There are numerous testimonies from his old age supporting this interpretation of Cézanne's use of the word 'realization'. Among those who reported on his struggle with his vision was the young Joachim Gasquet who, although often considered unreliable in his transcriptions of Cézanne's conversations, can probably be believed in his description of Cézanne's gesture characterizing the realized image. Cézanne held his hands far apart, very slowly brought them together, linked them, folded them tightly and said: 'This is what we must reach . . . there mustn't be a stitch too loose. . . . If I have the least distraction, the least obstruction, above all, if I interpret too much one day, if a theory today brings me something that contradicts that of the day before, if I think while painting, if I intervene, Bang! Everything falls apart [fout le camp ].' Here again, the ideal goes back to an earlier epoch. Cézanne's notion that a painter's temperament would lead hint to a direct experience of completion in which theory would not intervene was an old romantic ideal: the kind of ideal Balzac envisaged, the kind of ideal Delacroix had in mind when he spoke of the 'native' painter and said that Rembrandt was perhaps more 'natively a painter' than Raphael. Cézanne recognized, at the end, that paint, its materiality, was a means of unravelling his confused sensations. 'At the present time', he wrote to Gasquet (c . 1896), 'I am still searching for the expression of those confused sensations that we bring with us at birth.'
His search in the last decade brought him back to his earlier perceptions, but they were now intensified. His attitude towards colour, for instance, shifts perceptibly in the late landscapes. Where, before, an orderly succession of light tones moved rhythmically across his surface, in the late works there are deeper sonorities and more concern with chiaroscuro contrast. Just as he told Maurice Denis in 1906 that he was finding the same contrasts in the Delacroix bouquet Vollard had given him as he found in Veronese's Marriage at Cana , so he now found contrasts in the valleys, woods and mountains that had never been so pronounced, or so abstract, and yet had never before resulted in such an emphatic overall harmony. This ideal had been posited by Delacroix, and had confronted Cézanne all his life. Baudelaire had frequently discussed colour in terms that Delacroix had initiated, and his conclusions were not far from Cézanne's own:
Let us suppose a beautiful expanse of nature, where there is full license for everything to be as green, red, dusty or iridescent as it wishes; where all things, variously coloured in accordance with their molecular structure, suffer continual alteration through the transposition of shadow and light; where the workings of latent heat allow no rest, but where everything is in a state of perpetual vibration which causes lines to tremble and fulfils the law of eternal and universal movement . . . According as the daystar alters its position, tones change their values, but, always respecting their natural sympathies and antipathies, they continue to live in harmony by making reciprocal concessions . . . for with Nature, form and colour are one.
To reach the state of harmony, despite the maddening shifts he observed from moment to moment when he was painting sur le motif , Cézanne increasingly resorted to non-descriptive, or abstract means. In Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Les Lauves (Basel) he masses his strokes in the foreground where the valley is inflected with the shadows of dark greens and violets. These masses, with their occasional detached vertical strokes, move upward as though in a flux of their own to the crest of the mountain. There, there is an absence, a floating ambiguous air of no form, which concedes to a sky in which the blues and greens of below resume their pulsating above. Undoubtedly the endless ambiguities here (the illusion of depth checked by the immediacy of the overall pattern of tones) were reflections of Cézanne's intense gazing. For him to rid himself of doubt, he could only reach the kind of attentive trance that Balzac had considered the optimal creative condition - the trance that was a form of second sight. His instinctive mistrust of the tricks of intellectualism spared him much, but on the other side was his mistrust of the frivolous acceptance of mere appearances. In Frenhofer's example he sought the mystery of total attention which he hoped would transport him to the realm of unity. His obeisance to 'temperament' and to primary force led him to admire those artists who, like Frenhofer, could remain solely within the dream of their ongoing work.
In a way Cézanne had his own Frenhofer in his friend, Adolphe Monticelli, with whom he professed so much affinity. Monticelli, whom Cézanne probably met around 1879 when he himself had definitively retreated to the south of France, had once been a painter of very successful rococo fantasies in prewar Paris. After the Franco-Prussian war, Monticelli had returned to his
native Marseilles where he remained an eccentric recluse until his death. In his Paris years Monticelli had been something of a dandy described by a contemporary as a Titian out of its frame, but when he returned to Marseilles he took up a Bohemian life. Although he still loved opulence he no longer bothered to make money and lived in reduced circumstances. His attic room was small, with a purple curtain, a bed, an easel and two chairs. Here he painted his Venetian scenes and Watteau-inspired fetes in the glowing impastos so much admired by Cézanne, who believed that Monticelli knew arcane secrets of grinding paint. Monticelli loved opera and gypsy music and, in the evenings, would hurry home after a performance, light all the candies and hasten to paint his impression. 'I give myself the luxury of placing free notes of colour on my canvases; a rich yellow and a velvet black give me supreme pleasure.' Cézanne sought out Monticelli frequently and they were said to have made painting expeditions together during which Cézanne recited Virgil. Cézanne's references to Monticelli were always admiring. Monticelli, he said, had temperament.
Monticelli's total absorption in his world of dream tableaux was a compelling example. Cézaune felt close to Monticelli's spirit-the spirit of the celibate resisting the world. Monticelli's abjuration of the Paris art world, and his Frenhofer furor to paint, could be related to Cézalme's memory of the three painters in Balzac's fable. The attitudes Balzac had juxtaposed were fused in an eccentric such as Monticelli who adamantly remained within the ideals of his youth, as did Cézanne, in the last analysis. Cézanne held Balzac's contradictions in his memory when, for instance, he described how the intervention of a theory could spoil a day's work. He reflects the early nineteenth-century regard for 'enthusiasm' which embraced the notion of intuitive quickness, direct response and organic development. From Goethe's advice that painters should paint, not talk, to Gautier's theory of the artist as pure plastician, the romantic view of the artist as the unmediated creator prevailed. Cézanne never forgot Frenhofer's single-minded devotion to Iris ideal and his priestly rituals. In his old age he often referred to the sacrifices the true painter must make in terms of everyday life, and in this, too, he held to his youthful ideals. In My, Confidences he had cited as his favourite lines of poetry Alfred de Vigny's refrain in 'Moïse':
Lord, you have made me strong and solitary
Let me sleep the sleep of the earth.
Vigny's sober vision of Moses, lamentably remote from the possibilities of ordinary life, yet charged with carrying on towards a promised land he knows he cannot enter, seems to have moved Cézanne throughout his life. Vigny's Moses is a parable of the artistic outcast, strong in his artistic will, and alone, as the early nineteenth-century poets invariably saw him. Cézanne saw himself as a tragic Moses at times, and posed the rhetorical question at the end: will I be permitted to enter the promised land or will I be like Moses? Cézanne's familiarity with the Old Testament would have reminded him that the Lord tells Moses he shall see the promised land with his eyes, but shall not go thither. Fearfully he contemplated a fate such as Frenhofer's.
Balzac could not have known that in the composite of the three painters in The Unknown Masterpiece he described the burgeoning of the modem attitude towards painting in which the fundamental stress was to be on process. The shift in the nineteenth century from the theoretical assessment of painting to the psychological, registers in Cézanne's method, which was as paradoxical as Frenhofer's own. Merleau-Ponty perceived Cézanne's paradox as his wanting 'to depict matter as it takes on form, the birth of order through spontaneous organization'. Schapiro sees Cézanne's procedures similarly as the registering of successive perceptions in which form 'is in constant naming and contributes an aspect of the encountered and random to the final appearance of the scene, inviting us to endless exploration'. But these assessments could be valid only if the other dream - the dream of a constructed ideal - is taken into account, and if Cézanne's own notion of temperament were considered. Like Frenhofer, who spent ten years on his vision, Cézanne spent more than ten years on his Bathers and never felt he had completed it. Again and again he returned to the large canvas, sometimes, like Frenhofer, feeling he had 'confirmed his theory' in the working; sometimes feeling he had made an heroic failure. Working only from memory, Cézanne faltered and doubted. But he also felt onrushes of despair as he confronted nature itself and acknowledged the eternal divergence between the rendition of his sense impressions and his perception, or mental image. The profusion of psychological encounters, as he gazed outward, often seemed to Cézanne beyond comprehension. He suffered in his methodical process of trancelike scanning from the chaos of successive perceptions. The troubling problem of choice never diminished. Yet he held fast to his philosophic premise that the world in its overwhelming diversity was nonetheless reducible to a universe in paint. His empirical process constantly led him beyond empiricism.
In his last year Cézanne wrote to his son:
Here on the bank of the river the motifs multiply, the same subject seen from a different angle offers subject for study of the most powerful interest and so varied that I think I could occupy myself for months without changing place, by turning now more to the right, now more to the left.
This phenomenon of successive perceptions as an organic process by which we form a relative image had been in the making long before Cézanne made it his own, but it remained for him to articulate it in paint. In poetry Coleridge and Shelley, Baudelaire and Rimbaud had already possessed the relative idea. In architecture, as the architectural historian Peter Collins has pointed out, the phenomenon of parallax, 'the apparent displacement of objects caused by an actual change in the point of observation', had long been known:
In ordinary experience this means, for example, that as one rides in a fast car, distant objects seem to be travelling at the same speed as the car relative to, say, nearby trees or poles which line the road. In architecture it means that as one moves through or past a colonnade, the columns not only appear to change position relative to one another, but also appear to change position relative to whatever is perceived through them or behind them.
Modem architecture, Collins suggests, exploits the effects of parallax which had always been used by architects, but with a view which Collins brings out
through a curious reference to Spengler's Decline of the West . A typical late romantic, Spengler draws together the most high-pitched observations of his aestheticizing German predecessors (many of whom had impressed the literati of Balzac's generation):
There is one and only one soul, the Faustian, that craves for a style which drives through walls into the limitless universe of space, and makes both the exterior and the interior of the building complementary images of one and the same world feeling . . . The Faustian building has a visage , not merely a façade.
The drive for the 'same world feeling' can be felt in Cézanne's late works. His rocks, trees and houses have visages. Increasingly, he felt their imperceptible structural affinities and sought, with surfaces and shapes, an analogue. In his late studies in watercolour of the rocks above the Château Noir, Cézanne felt his way among the seemingly unlimited possibilities of vision, finding metaphorical allusions. He could satisfy his craving for order in remarking the horizontal formations of the greater blocks of stone, and he could satisfy his old need for the baroque in the curving irregularities of his rock wall. But he went further. He explored the bizarre effects of inverted weights. His rocks sometimes seem suspended in space, or ascending with the lightness of balloons. They sometimes recall the convex forms of the buttocks in his bathers, and sometimes they dissolve in a system of lights and shadows. Like the oranges and apples, they submit to laws invented by the painter himself, laws which no longer, in the late works, derive solely from the experience of seeing, but also from the poetic ideals Cézanne always retained. During the long years of study in which he had learned to adjust forms to accommodate his psychological observations and had made the leap into composite perspectives (usually called 'distortions' in the work of the 1870s and early 1880s), he had sought 'complementary' images. In the late works, the 'one and the same world feeling' dominates, and prompts Cézanne to adhere faithfully to a principle of minute, additive perceptions recorded while his imagination held steady the vision of the whole.
To the first question in My Confidences asking about his favourite colour, Cézanne had replied, 'general harmony'. To the question, what seems to you the ideal of earthly happiness?, he had answered, 'to have a belle formule '; and to the question, what do you consider nature's masterpiece?, he answered, 'her infinite diversity'. In these replies Cézanne affirmed his solidarity with the generation Balzac described. The search for an abstract unity or harmony that would somehow show itself through the hieroglyphs of nature remained for Cézanne the worthiest ideal. Restating his position in a letter to Roger-Marx in 1905, Cézanne refers to his ideal of art as 'a conception of nature', which was his ultimate goal. The conception of nature is not nature itself. In building his compositions, he was building a philosophy, a view of the world, a method of decoding the universe. He told Gasquet, 'Everything we see is dispersed and disappears. Nature is always the same but nothing remains of it, nothing of what we see.' He felt increasingly that, with his temperament and his conception of nature, he could restore the continuity, the underlying harmony, without sacrificing 'the appearances of all its changes' - the paradox
which he never ceased trying to resolve. When he painted the rocks, fissures, caves, dells, forest enclosures, nests (those cavities containing the pots and fruits in his still-lifes, for instance), he sought their opposite in the spaces which could not be contained in objects alone. 'Always it is the sky, the things without limits that attract me,' he wrote to Victor Choquet. The marked stress on complex rhythms in the late works shows him searching out an absolute metaphor. If he had been a poet it would have been understood that he would seek his self in terms of interior rhythms, of 'breath'. As a painter, Cézanne undertook a similar quest. His hand would find its rhythm, which would reflect the interiority of his way of apprehending the visible world. It can be felt in those early works in which his baroque love of the curvilinear led him to expressionist excess, and it can be felt in the late work, with its grouped down-strokes coursing across the surfaces.
In his determined resistance to the ideas of his time - the naturalism his friend Zola had broadcast, and the scientific aspirations of the Impressionists - Cézanne conceived himself in a different, earlier tradition. Finally, he expressed in paint what various poets and philosophers had posited in words: the notion of universal analogy, with its concomitant principle of reciprocity. From Fourier, whose first rule was absolute doubt and whose doctrine of universal analogy must have nourished Baudelaire's, to Balzac, who found his source in Swedenborg, to Cézanne's contemporary, Mallarmé, French thinkers had kept the idea alive. Cézanne cherished Baudelaire's 'Une Charogne' for its bitter and definitive exposition of the doctrine. The dissolution of living matter which is transformed again into living matter was an experience Cézanne knew first-hand. 'Everything we see is dispersed and disappears.' Only Baudelaire's poem and Cézanne's paintings - his 'realizations' - could arrest the universal flux. Cézanne's conclusion on this score is explicit in his watercolour studies of skulls. To him as to everyone else they represent mortality. But more important, they are his parallel to 'Une Charogne'. In the Three Skulls (Art Institute of Chicago), the flowered rug on which they are grouped is deliberately rendered with the same shapes as the hollows in the skull. Flowers and cranial cavities are finally in a rhyming scheme, a system of analogy that is endowed at its core with his meaning.
To use the term 'a system of analogy' is not to say that Cézanne ceded to the finality of a system, or even that he had at last, as he had yearned, found a belle formule . But increasingly towards the end of his life he yielded to the impulse of abstraction. His sense of drama reasserted itself and he expressed his vision in the teetering rocks at Bibémus quarry, in the shivering trees and turbid skies adorning Mont Sainte-Victoire. In the end the world finally began to resemble his feelings, his deepest, most tremulous feelings, and after all the years of prudent restraint and careful checking, Cézanne would find the visual equivalent to Goethe's mysterious announcement that 'naught is inside, naught is outside/For what is within is also without'. In his very last paintings, particularly the watercolour study and oil of Le Cabanon de Jourdan , what Baudelaire would have called the 'musicality' of the painting is its most prominent trait. Cézanne renders the trees in a hectic vibrato that echoes rhythmically through the sky. He rhymes door and chimney, path and sky.
He eliminates, through the use of broad blocks of colour, his customary wealth of foreground detail in favour of the abstract whole. The chimney, like a tower, points into the sky, but its base is curiously eroded by an emphatic patch of blue - the environment dissolving the object or solid form (an idea Matisse later developed in such paintings as The Piano Lesson where the tangible space of the room invades the boy's cheek). Despite the suggestion that air and light can make a solid like a chimney give way, the abstract character of the musical beat triumphs. Totality or harmony, Cézanne's early ideal, is achieved.
Here he posits a universe, and it is a universe that has a curiously spherical shape. The certitude Cézanne sought would gradually reveal itself in his conception of nature, which he thought of in terms of rondeur . He had always remembered Frenhofer's lecture, in which he said that 'Nature provides a succession of rounded outlines that run into one another', and he had trained his eyes to discern the roundness in nature to the degree that he said his vision was concentric. But towards the end, the convexity that he found wherever he looked in nature was no longer tied to specific shapes, but became his ideal vision of the world - an abstraction. He had sensed his way to Pascal's idea that 'Nature is an infinite sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere'. Even though he had earlier rendered optical effects such as the apparent entasis in a solid such as a table leg, or a wall, which he felt to be endemic to perception, Cézanne in his late years began to fuse his forms for a total, slightly convex effect, as though to reflect the nature of the carth itself. He entered a painterly metaphysics - what Gaston Bachelard called the phenomenology of roundness. Bachelard defines this sense of roundness as a cosmicizing action, and says of certain poets that they know 'that when a thing becomes isolated, it becomes round, assumes a figure of being that is concentrated upon itself'. He cites one of Rilke's poémes français as an example of cosmicizing poetry:
Arbre toujours au milieu
De tout ce qui l'entoure
Arbre qui savoure
La voûte des cieux .
Tree always the centre
Of all that surrounds it
Tree that feasts upon
Heaven's great dome.
Bachelard comments that the imagination of roundness follows its own law; 'The world is round around the round being.' Rilke's tree 'propagates in green spheres a roundness that is a victory over accidents of form and the capricious events of mobility'.
When Balzac describes young Poussin's response to Frenhofer's exalted speeches he writes that, for Poussin, 'the old man had become, by a sudden transformation, the personification of art, art with its secrets, its impulses, its reveries'. Many young artists similarly felt Cézanne's presence during his last years, and sensed that his reveries were now of paramount importance. In the
late works, a strong tendency to flatness, or a screenlike character, appears, much as spaces are condensed in dreams. Cézanne's reverie articulates itself in such paintings as Bend in Forest Road where the tapestried blue of sky, inflected with the crenellated rhythm of an ambiguous rampart, filters down through a wall of vertical trees to the sun-flecked, bending (but strangely up-tilted) road. This screen of sky, trees and light is in turn rounded off and given that slight convexity that Cézanne told his son he perceived in all bodies in space. The painting conforms to Bachelard's insights, and typifies the abstracted, dreaming gaze of the old Cézanne. His meditations, at the end, brought him intimations of a parallel world. He had deferred to Frenhofer's vision of an intimate knowledge of form: unvanquished painters, Frenhofer had said, persevere until nature is driven to show itself to them all naked and in its true guise. Cézanne had found its true guise, as he wrote in 1897 to Gasquet: 'Art is a harmony which runs parallel with nature.' He was quoted as having said, 'The landscape thinks itself in me, and I am its consciousness.' (A curious parallel to Rimbaud's 'on me pense'.)
If there is always, in Cézanne, a complex and not easily discernible web of emotions, the late brooding quality visible in certain paintings must not be separated from a lifetime of nervous meditations. He was a man of passion, and passion, as Balzac indicated in the important fable of Frenhofer, overtakes, consumes, but also builds. Cézanne's romantic faith, layered over the years, bursts forth at the end. But so do questions, and feelings of deep uneasiness. He had shown signs, early in his career, of being preoccupied with death and violence. He dealt with mortality in fear and trembling, but also with a cool curiosity about himself as artist. At the end he wrote to his son: 'I see the dark side of things.' The dark side of combat, of love, of intimations of the universe, of space itself, found expression in the heaving forms and rhythms in the late paintings. He said he would do Poussin after nature. In the end, he did Poussin after his own nature. He agreed on the one hand with Balzac: 'I am convinced that the span of life is in relation to the force that the individual can oppose to thought; the basis is temperament.' And he could not, for all that, banish thought as the underlying principle of all art. These flourishing emotions can be read in the portraits of Cézanne's last year. The three paintings called portraits of the gardener, Vallier, are surely spiritual self-portraits. In them Cézanne returns to the palette of his youth - deep bottle greens, blues and earth colours. The sitter wears a visored cap that shadows brooding eyes, eyes that suggest the dark, inward reveries Cézanne might have observed both in Rembrandt's self-portraits and in the figures that Baudelaire discussed in Delacroix's paintings, or might have remembered from The Unknown Masterpiece .
If the transfixed eyes in these late portraits can be read, they speak of Cézanne's perpetual anxiety, his fear as he neared, again and again, the abstract abyss.
Now being old, nearly seventy years, the sensations of colour which give the light are for me the reason for the abstractions which do not allow me to cover my canvas entirely nor to pursue the delimitations of objects where their points of contact are fine and delicate; from which it results that my image or picture is incomplete.
This letter (to Bernard, in 1905) has been variously interpreted but remains ambiguous. In the late paintings there are in fact many white passages indicating that Cézanne's idea of the 'passage' had altered over the years. When he first speaks of the 'passage' he seems to mean the gradation of light tone as the eye follows the curving contours of an object and reaches its limit in a vibration of air. Later the 'passage' takes on the connotations of an abstract system. In the last watercolours, the shaped white absences are necessary abstractions. They are the vision, the ideal, held in the imagination as the hand and eye seek equivalences. The tension between idea and act, always important to Cézanne and maintained deliberately, finds resolution in these absences lighted by both the mind and the hand. 'Everything,' he wrote to Camoin in 1903, 'especially in art, is theory developed and applied in contact with nature. . . . This is the most honest letter I have yet written to you.'
And yet, he could see himself as Frenhofer, and tremble as he sensed that he neared an absolute. Many of his last letters suggest that he stubbornly persisted with his empirical method only because he felt himself moving closer to the impossible ideal that had rendered Frenhofer helpless. When he was rereading Baudelaire, and painting the free and emotional late works, did he seek out the passages in which Baudelaire echoes the implicit warning in The Unknown Masterpiece? Such passages as:
By modernity I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable . . . This transitory, fugitive element, whose metamorphoses are so rapid, must on no account be despised or dispensed with. By neglecting it, you cannot fail to tumble into the abyss of an abstract and indeterminate beauty, like that of the first woman before the fall of man.
But just as there is no perfect circumference, the absolute ideal is a bêtise .
Absolute, eternal beauty does not exist, or rather, it is only an abstraction skimmed from the general surface of different forms of beauty. The particular element in each form of beauty comes from the emotions and as we have our own particular emotions, we have our own form of beauty.
Like Frenhofer, Cézanne had begun with convictions drawn from his culture and struggled thereafter to make his experiences and his principles coincide. Frenhofer's tragic error always' stood before him, and he never reached his dearest hope - the hope of certainty.