Self Published

Man With Crossed Arms by Paul Cezanne
Man With Crossed Arms by Paul Cezanne

First of all, like all the photos in this blog, there is an enlargement available if you would like to see the whole picture. In fact, I invite you to look at the whole painting before reading my gibberish. I would like to hear what other people think is going on in this late Cezanne. Fred Lipp first brought it to my attention but as was his way he did not tell me what to think about it.

The painting is in the Guggenheim’s collection and I took the next few sentences from their website. “Cezanne’s work was motivated by a desire to give sculptural weight and volume to the instantaneity of vision achieved by the Impressionists, who painted from nature. Relying on his perception of objects in space as visually interrelated entities—as forms locked into a greater compositional structure. The strangely distorted, proto-Cubist view of the sitter—his right eye is depicted as if glimpsed from below and the left as if seen from above—contributes an enigmatic, contemplative air to the painting. ”

Cézanne is considered the precursor of Cubism. You read this all the time when people talk about Cezanne and I don’t particularly like Cubism but I love this painting. There is so much space in it that I never tire of looking at it. The wood trim on the wall below the sitter’s left elbow is coming at us and it wraps around the sitter. The wall is far from flat. The way the wall is painted it creates real space around the sitter. His left leg is coming out of the painting at us and the right falls away. The left side of his body is turning toward us while the right arm, which is actually closer to us, turns away. The chair under him shown only to his right, accents the turn in his body. With his left eye lower, much lower, than the right his head is almost spinning. His upper body is unusually long, he is way present. Cezanne has created so much volume in this painting with what some people dismiss as distortion.

I think the painting is a marvel. The card players are over the top with spatial illusion. I see aspects of these features in most of his portraits and yet when a new book, Cezanne Portraits from a show that was recently at the National Gallery, arrived there was hardly any spatial discussion. I would like to hear what others think. We will write our own book.


7 Replies to “Self Published”

  1. Good observations and I add one more thought. The remarkable angled placement and curves of the palette in the lower corner anchor the whole painting in a particularly compelling way.

    I miss Fred still.

  2. The texture of the wall…his Provençal landscapes literally glitter with light and density- you can feel a hot wind. And like all great art, no reproduction does them justice. They’re so visceral when you are in the room with them.
    Go see the Thiebaud Draftsman show at the Morgan. Crazy good in a totally different way.

  3. This is a very “moving” portrait, literally. To me it reflects not a solitary static view of the sitter but one that captures more of a live experience of being in the room engaging the subject. people are always in motion so we see things from multiple angles constantly, his head almost spinning, the turning of his body, time is being stretched as much as the figures distortion. The volume of the painting is interesting as it has such a narrow range of both chromatic and tonal values. Not so much because there are objects in a room or a 3-D space but more of the manipulation of the surface the way all items are interlocked into a singular breathing pulsating organism.

  4. The palette, that Alice calls attention to, pushed to the front, and the stretcher stacked behind it and then the wall behind it, all fan out at different angles. It is indeed remarkable! Thank you directing attention to this stunning aspect.

    Now if the sitter was just turning in one direction the portrait would be of a sitter turning but it is not. It is alive, as Steve points out, and I love this analogy, it “captures more of a live experience of being in the room engaging the subject.” That is exactly why this painting is so interesting! As Steve says, “Time is being stretched!”

    Martin is correct, no reproduction does a masterpiece justice. But if a reproduction is this good, just imagine what it would be like to see the painting in person. Thank you Alice, Steve and Martin for continuing this conversation.

  5. Thanks to all of you for your observations. It helps me “see” the painting at a much deeper level. The facial expression and eye placement really convey a feeling that the guy is looking/thinking about something profound. Makes one want to see the unseen.

  6. Hmmmm, interesting that this draws you so much Paul. I have only an unsophisticated response to this, which is my impression that we are always different people, and looks in our eyes, or distortions to them, show only different sides to ourselves. When I was an adolescent I often became obsessed with one feature of my face, and how imperfect is was — all I could see in a face — mine and others — was for a time the mouth…. or later the nose…. or later again the length of a neck. Cezanne’s body and clothing and arms are more coherent a presentation.

  7. Thank you for bringing this compelling painting and your analysis of it to my attention. Picasso famously said Cezanne “was my one and only master” and further that “Cezanne’s influence gradually flooded everything.” Knowing this I still thought, yes, Cezanne distilled the essential forms of nature in his stillifes, mountain and outdoor paintings BUT Picasso was the first and alone in applying this multi-angle vision to portraits, people and animals. Now, from what you’ve pointed out, I finally see how the lessons he gleaned from Cezanne’s work were alive in Picasso’s mind from early on and in all his subject matter.

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