Tag Archives: Paul Cezanne

Paul Cézanne and Katherine Mansfield: I, myself, am changing into an apple, too

19 Jan

Paul Cézanne was one of those painters who are here to show us that sometimes what is painted is less important than how something is painted. Cézanne is our birthday boy today, he was born on this day in 1839.

Paul Cezanne, Four Apples, 1881

The simple, yet striking composition you see above with four apples, ripe and idle, gracing the table, is typical for Cézanne. Unlike some Dutch Baroque master who wanted to show his skill in painting with perfect accuracy or displaying wealth symbolised by flowers and fruit, Cézanne’s motifs were of an entirely different nature. He used every motif to explore colours and shapes. Here we see four apples in different sizes and colours, we see the brushstrokes that created them but we can also feel how real and touchable they are, their red and green colours oozing life. They are placed on a grey surface, the edges of which are left unfinished, exposing the canvas and the thick brushstrokes of grey paint, leaving visible this pulsating line which visually divides the painting or “the illusion” and the bare canvas or “the reality”.

And now a small digression, since the motif of apples is present here, I will use the opportunity to share with you a very interesting fragment from a letter by Katherine Mansfield to her painter-friend Dorothy Brett.

What can one do, faced with this wonderful tumble of round bright fruits, but gather them and play with them—and become them, as it were. When I pass the apple stalls I cannot help stopping and staring until I feel that I, myself, am changing into an apple, too—and that at any moment I may produce an apple, miraculously, out of my own being like the conjurer produces the egg. When you paint apples do you feel that your breasts and your knees become apples, too? Or do you think this is the greatest nonsense. I don’t. I am sure it is not. When I write about ducks I swear that I am a white duck with a round eye, floating in a pond fringed with yellow blobs and taking an occasional dart at the other duck with the round eye, which floats upside down beneath me. (…) There follows the moment when you are more duck, more apple or more Natasha than any of these objects could ever possibly be, and so you create them anew.

What a beautiful, delightful and psychedelic idea; to imagine yourself turning into an apple, becoming the apple that you see in front of you!? But let’s get back to Cézanne. What he wanted to achieve was the illusion of depth without sacrificing the luminosity of colours. In a way, his ambivalence towards the art of proper drawing opened a gateway for many artists who followed. His brushstrokes, palette of colours and relentless interest in portraying similar scenes make Cézanne’s paintings highly recognisable. He was often repetitive in the choice of subjects and he was mainly concentrated on still lives and numerous landscapes with Mount Sainte-Victorie, but he also painted many interesting portraits of his family and imaginary figures. Unlike his contemporaries, the young bohemian artists who arrived to Paris to struggle and thrive in creating their art, Cézanne was from a well-off family and later even inherited a little fortune which allowed him to entirely devote his life to art, without any sacrifices, and to really explore his artistic visions without worrying about pleasing the possible buyers or earning for bread.

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Paul Cezanne – Boy in a Red Waistcoat

15 Jun

Amedeo Modigliani greatly admired Paul Cezanne’s work. The story goes that Modigliani carried a reproduction of Cezanne’s painting ‘Boy in a Red Waistcoat‘ ever since he saw a retrospective of Cezanne’s work in Paris in 1907. And whenever Cezanne’s name came up in a conversation, Modigliani would take out that reproduction and ecstatically kiss it.

1888-90. Boy in a Red Waistcoat - Paul Cezanne1888-90 Boy in a Red Waistcoat – Paul Cezanne

There is indeed a connection between works of these two masters. Both Cezanne and Modigliani were faithful to tradition, and sought inspiration in history, at the same time adorning their canvases with something brutally modern and infected with abstraction. There’s no doubt that Modigliani was influenced by Cezanne, for his early paintings are very unlike the nudes which later celebrated him. Sombre and grey, with solid brush strokes they evoke the spirit of Cezanne’s series of ‘boys in a red vest’. Even though Modigliani later found his own artistic direction, Cezanne’s spirit occasionally lurks even in the most unusual paintings.

I am not a big fan of Cezanne, but I must say that his painting ‘Boy in a Red Waistcoat‘ (along with his numerous depictions of skulls), has striked me at first sight; what emotional depth, what drab mood, what a mystery? I instantly loved everything about it! Cezanne rarely bothered to date his paintings, or even name them, but it is assumed that these four paintings, ‘Boy in a Red Vest‘ series, were created between 1888 and 1890. Cezanne seemed to have a flair for painting the same scenes again and again, with a few changes, but each reflecting a different mood.

Just to be clear, I am going to be discussing my favourite out of these four paintings, which is the one above (they all bear the same name and I don’t want any misunderstanding.) The painting shows a boy dressed in a traditional Italian attire, standing in a classical pose; one hand on the hip, other hanging – a pose of resignation and passivity fitting for a drab yet powerful mood of the painting. Amidst all the bleak greys and boring browns, there’s a red vest that exudes aura of decadency and power. Blue tones occasionally peak like rays of sunshine. Sun can be blue if one sees it that way. The most exciting aspect of this painting are the brushstrokes; heavy and serious. Using only a few basic autumnal colours, Cezanne painted a magnificently intricate background, in some parts even blended with the boy’s trousers, in others cheekily standing out from the red waistcoat. Depth was achieved by adding visibly darker tones around the elbow and the shoulders. Despite the seeming roughness, a scene is perfectly balanced, sad and harmonious.

The boy was a professional model named Michelangelo di Rosa. His face reveals to us a troubled inner live, sadness, shyness, fear and doubt. His lips are shaped ‘like the wings of a distant bird‘. A figure at once melancholic and graceful, evokes the spirit of the 16th century Italian aristocratic portraits by mannerist masters. Clad in a romantic costume of Italian peasant, the boy seems so fragile and vulnerable, secretive and passive – retaining a position of eternal mystery. Cezanne’s portraits are, just like Modigliani’s, nothing but silent confirmations of life.

1888-90. The Boy in the Red Vest (also known as The Boy in the Red Waistcoat) by Paul Cézanne1888-90 The Boy in the Red Vest (also known as The Boy in the Red Waistcoat) by Paul Cézanne

1888-90. Boy in a Red Vest by Paul Cézanne1888-90 Boy in a Red Vest by Paul Cézanne

1888-90. Boy in a Red Waistcoat by Paul Cézanne1888-90 Boy in a Red Waistcoat by Paul Cézanne

Pierrot – A Rococo Invention

6 Dec

Pierrot; a figure pure and sad, a figure as lonely as the Moon above, a figure naive yet immensely trusting; trusting in the goodness of man, a figure always in the shadow of the showy and cheerful Harlequin, a figure destined for the eternal tranquility.

1888. Mardi gras (Pierrot et Arlequin) - Cezanne

I recently became intrigued by Pierrot, after watching the amazing three-part documentary ‘Rococo: Travel, Pleasure, Madness‘ by Waldemar Januszczak. His documentaries always intrigue me to find out more about the subject, but this one also gave me a new vision of Rococo. If you’ve considered it light and kitschy, well, maybe you should think again. Part of Rococo is like that, but Rococo in general gave art much more than Boucher’s ladies in silk pink dresses. One of the Rococo inventions was Pierrot itself.

Pierrot or ‘The Sad Clown‘ is a stock character in Italian Commedia dell’Arte which originated in the late seventeenth century in the Italian troupe of players performing in Paris. Dressed in a loose white blouse with large buttons, wide white pantaloons, with a face also painted in white, Pierrot, with a sad face expression, is a startling contrast to cheerful and colourful Harlequin. Pierrot is sad because Colombine rejects him, and she rejects him over and over again because he is not as interesting or daring as Harlequin. Pierrot is vulnerable and sad just like a human. He is naive, often seen as a fool, but nevertheless trusting.

1718. Antoine Watteau - Gilles (or Pierrot) and Four Other Characters of the Commedia dell'arte

One of the first artists who was sympathetic towards poor Pierrot was Antoine Watteau. He portrayed him as a human; sad, vulnerable and played out, over and over again. How solitary Pierrot looks, always left out, always rejected. Even in the crowd, he stands out, dressed in loose satin garment, as white and fragile as it was made out of tears. Pierrot, although officially one of the actors, feels separate, lovelorn possibly. Even his clothes don’t fit properly; his sleeves are too long, they’re ruffled at the elbow because he has pulled them up, and his trousers are too short, exposing his ankles. His face radiates deep sadness, unease and innocence. Unlucky in love, unlucky in everything, Pierrot is presented as humanly as any character can be.

Watteau’s Pierrot is without a mask. He stares directly at the audience; knowing and disillusioned. He feels at unease due to his position; he was designated to be a sad clown for eternity, he did not chose that. Pierrot, in his discomfort and alienation, rebels against his position in the comedy, and in his position in the painting as well. Sad and beat, Pierrot represent the sad human and the impossibility of finding true happiness. Pierrot’s identity troubles him; he’s not sure who he is any more than we do.

1719. Antoine Watteau - Italian Actors

In Romanticism, for the Post-Revolutionary people, Pierrot was not a fool but a symbol of a tragical struggling to secure a place in a bourgeois world.  Pierrot was a reflection of all the sadness, melancholia, alienation and disappointment the modern man felt in those changing times. Romanticists embraced Pierrot so much that they considered him their own invention. All the artistic/cultural movements after also loved Pierrot and he was soon embraced as a symbol of the artist himself.

The Decadents turned him, like them selves, into a disciple of Schopenhauer, an opponent of women and a callow idealist. The Symbolists saw him as a fellow-sufferer, ‘crucified upon the rood of soulful sensitivity‘, his only friend the distant Moon which shines above, as sad and lonely as Pierrot himself, but at least the silvery moonbeams give him comfort.

The Modernists turned him into a Whistlerian subject for canvases, faithfully devoted to colour and line. From the first Watteau’s painting of Pierrot, this tragic figure became an alter-ego of the artist, specially of the alienating late nineteenth and early twentieth century artists. His physical isolation, his poignant lapses into mutism (the legacy of the great mime Deburau), his white and fragile garment, face painted in white suggesting not only innocence but death paleness, his constant longing for Columbine and her constant refusal, along with his unwordly naivete have all added to the myth of Pierrot. Much of those mythical characteristic are popular and recognisable even now. David Bowie epitomised the Pierrot for the song ‘Ashes to Ashes’; Pierrot’s popularity in modern times has not withered.

I dedicate these Shelley’s verses to Pierrot; a figure as lonely as the Moon…

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth, –
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

If you want to see more of the paintings, photos, anything culturally or artistically related to the sad Pierrot, you can visit my Pinterest board ‘Pierrot‘ – http://uk.pinterest.com/byronsm/pierrot/

1857. Jean-Léon Gérôme - Duel after a Masked Ball1857. Jean-Léon Gérôme – Duel after a Masked Ball

1883. Pierrot With A White Pipe (Aman Jean) - Georges Seurat1883. Pierrot With A White Pipe (Aman Jean) – Georges Seurat

1889. Pierrot et le chat - Théophile Alexandre Steinlen1889. Pierrot et le chat – Théophile Alexandre Steinlen

1908. Maxfield Parrish - The Lantern-Bearers, Appeared as frontispiece of Collier's Weekly, December 10, 1910.1908. Maxfield Parrish – The Lantern-Bearers, Appeared as frontispiece of Collier’s Weekly, December 10, 1910.

1914. Vasilij Suhaev and Alexandre Yakovlev - Harlequin and Pierrot (Self-Portraits of and by Suhaev and A. Yakovlev)1914. Vasilij Suhaev and Alexandre Yakovlev – Harlequin and Pierrot (Self-Portraits of and by Suhaev and A. Yakovlev)

1921. Gris - Pierrot1921. Gris – Pierrot

 

1923. Ilustração Portuguesa cover by Melendez Pierrot1923. Ilustração Portuguesa cover by Melendez Pierrot

1923. Pierrot with guitar, Gino Severini1923. Pierrot with guitar, Gino Severini

1960. Duilio Barnabé - Pierrot1960. Duilio Barnabé – Pierrot

Painters that inspire me the most…

6 Jul

Though I absolutely adore many artists, not all of them inspire me in painting. I love Fragonard for example, but I could hardly be inspired by his stiff ladies in pastoral setting, dressed in their finest rose coloured silk gowns; that’s to idealistic, art needs to be more raw, filled with melancholy or anger or despair for me to like it. Other artists, on the other hand, inspire me with almost all of their paintings. I’ll present you the nine painters that inspire me the most.

1877. Degas - The Green Dancers

Degas

I hope you already know what great passion I have for Degas; I absolutely adore his ballerinas and he’s probably my favourite Impressionist. Degas is the proof that one subject, such as ballerinas in this case, can be painted over and over again, every time interpreted in a different way. Claude Monet did something similar, painting the Rouen Cathedral more than thirty times, each time observing the change of light. Back to the subject, I love Degas’ work in general because when I look at his paintings I feel like I’m there, like I am the candle that lightens the stage. His paintings have a very intimate feel.

1873. The Railway by Manet

Manet

Manet is one of my favourite Impressionist too; his simple approach to painting, rebellious spirit and Victorine Meurent as his muse and a model have all drawn me into exploring his work. I love how he painted every day life scenes; Parisian cafes, courtesans, ladies, absinth drinkers…

1888. Starry Night Over the Rhone - van gogh

1889. The Starry Night - van gogh

Van Gogh

I’m not a die-hard Van Gogh fan, but admire his work greatly and the two paintings you see above are my favourite paintings by him, they’re called Starry Night Over the Rhone and The Starry Night. The striking thing about these paintings is how you can see the brush strokes and still, with that heavy, relief coat of colour the paintings seem dreamy and magical, it’s amazing. And the stars seem so cheerful, as if they’re playing on the indigo sky above the sleeping town.

1888. Mardi gras (Pierrot et Arlequin) - Cezanne

1898. The Bathers (Cézanne)

Cezanne

Another Post-Impressionist, Cezanne, is influential on my art because I find his work to be daring with a rather different approach. The water colours you see above are one of my favourite paintings by him, not to mention his series of skulls which show his concern with transience. I like how real this water colour painting seems, you can really see the brush strokes and he used only two basic colours; yellow and blue which shows the simplicity in which he executed his work.

1878. La Buveuse d'absinthe - Felicien Rops

Felicien Rops

What I like about Felicien Rops’ paintings is the provocative way in which he painted, at first sight, ordinary subject. This painting, for example, is called La Buveuse d’Absinthe, and though Rops is not the first who elaborated this theme, he’s certainly the first who had done it in this rough way. If you look at this painting, you’ll see it appears more like a sketch rather than a finished painting. So ahead of his time, Rops painted this back in 1878. when the painting had to be perfectly detailed and executed in order to be presentable and accepted by the conservative public.

1891. James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man

James Ensor

I first became acquainted with Ensor’s work in late December 2013. and since then I’ve studied his paintings in detail. Far more important than considered, Ensor was crucial in the development of both Expressionism and Surrealism. His paintings mostly feature the same elements; skeletons which he used as an allegory. In his paintings skeletons wear masks and are depicted the same as humans. Ensor was the innovator of the 19th century art and there for his paintings are a foundation for the twentieth century art.

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

Edvard Munch

Painting The Scream is perhaps one of my favourite paintings ever. I love the vibrant colours, strong contrasts and the helplessness and agony of that man. I find the crooked, restless and hectic atmosphere of the painting very inspirational. It almost seems as if it was done at one brush stroke, at one moment. The painting is very, very expressive.

1918. Hébuterne by Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani

I have a great passion for Modigliani’s work. Melancholic spirit captivates all his portraits and nudes. Long-faced, sad beauties,that gaze thoughtfully at their dreary and lonely surrounding. The sadness that pervades his paintings is very inspirational to me and I like how dreamy the ladies on his paintings seem. His portraits, particularly this portrait of Jeanne, seem so realistic, yet so beautiful and magical.

1890. Bal au Moulin Rouge  - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

 Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec

And finally, the famous Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec, a Post-Impressionistic painter who depicted the Parisian night life; courtesans, theatres, Montmarte and elegant ladies in provocative, elegant and rather exciting approach. His painting stand as a colourful ending of the nineteenth century.

Of course, these are not all the artists that I seek inspiration from. Others are: George de Feuer, Klimt, Soutine…