Archive | June, 2014

Cezanne, a Modern Field of Vision

12 Jun

‘Picasso was a rare prodigy, Cezanne was not a prodigy, his art was a hard earnt skill, that took a long time ‘ David Hockney (1)

Cezanne was not , it seems, an artist prodigy, he excelled and won prizes at school for classics and literature, but it was his close friend Zola, who won the art prizes: yet , it could be said, that despite slow beginnings, his influence on the visual world resonates to the present day.

‘Fragmentation of continuous surfaces and the tying in together of the resultant flat fragments into harmonious configurations- this , in a hundred different guises,has provided the 20th century painters with their typical mode of pictorial structure, and it stems directly from Cezanne’ Patrick Heron (2)

The ‘tying together of fragments’ and what Patrick Heron goes on to describe as the breaking up of :’ the single perspective scheme, which had dominated painting since it was perfected in the Italian Renaissance’ are two concepts stemming from Cezanne that could be useful in discussions of issues of scale,  in complex big data projects such as EnglaID.

To explain this ,and going back a little to what Cezanne appears to have touched on : If we imagine a landscape , either as a photograph or as a painting, it is more often than not:

-Entirely in focus and

-Everything leads to a single view poiny , i.e : there is a single perspective.

Here are some examples of this :Image

in a photograph Image  and in a painting : Betrothal of the Virgin ( Pinacoteca di Brera ) 1504 , Raphael.

Here there is a single perspective , and everything is in focus , ( note the horizon through the window of the central focal point).

Image This is a photograph of cows resting on a hot summer’s day , Port Meadow , Oxford. Being a photograph , and not a pair of eyes, you are able to look through the lens to focus , not only on the central cow , but on the one behind her and to the side. Yet, when a person draws or looks at a landscape for example, this level of ‘all over focus’ is impossible to do. While drawing landscapes for EnglaID, I was trying to make small and narrow observations, which linked to other small observations to make up the whole picture.

Cezanne, I believe, in the way he painted , devised the first  method to do this , with the added ingenuity of presenting a cohesive whole.

Rilke , the poet, writes on Cezanne’s small marks or observations, describing them as “if mirroring a melody’.


La Montagne Sainte-Victoire ca 1904-06

by Paul Cezanne , The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum

In this oil painting , apart from the dashes of paint that seem to symbolize intense observations, Cezanne uses color to unify different zones. There is a lot of green in the sky , in the middle ground and the mountain. Cezanne has used the trees in the foreground ,to almost staple the middle and foregrounds together. Your eye can zoom into small details but these details do not feel separated from the rest of the picture. This is a good example of how Cezanne transfers and unifies different scales, can parallels be looked at in different fields of work ?


Rocks at Bibemus

Rochers de Bibemus

ca 1887-90 Paul Cezanne

watercolour and graphite on off-white paper

The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum

When anyone observes small sections of landscape , they are aware of the near surroundings through peripheral vision, has Cezanne in this beautiful watercolor of Rocks at Bibemus , used peripheral vision to be aware of other parts of his picture , did he start with the deeper blues and go around the picture, almost mapping it , before going on to another color ?

As Emile bernard describes : (3)

‘ His method was remarkable , totally different from traditional methods and extremely complicated.He began on the shadow with a single patch , which he then overlapped with a second and a third, until these patches, which produced screens, modeled the object by means of color’.

The quarry at Bibemus , is on the western side of the much-painted Monte Sainte Victoire, here materials extracted from the quarry were used to build houses in Aix, and the cabin in the quarry where Cezanne stored his materials and spend occasional nights.

Anwen Cooper’s blog on the Isle of Wight , 29th of October 2013 , resonates here:

‘Also striking was how materials were gathered from across the island’s landscape in architecture in Roman Villas and in more recent farm buildings.The Isle of Wight landscape and Islands relationship with this landscape were apparently condensed with its buildings.’

cabin at bibemus

Cezanne could be said to have made everything in his pictures connect , and by not using outlines that separate objects or observations in the picture plane; by not putting things in a box.


Forest Interior

Sous Bois

Watercolor and graphite, with touches of gouache , on buff wove paper

ca.1890 Paul Cezanne


The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum.

Cezanne manages to transfer scale however, without losing the sense of detailed observation ,on the way to the feeling of the whole.  How can this be possible in a big data project?

My conclusion is that Cezanne’s way of looking , is obviously not a direct and practical answer for archaeological research ; but what his example does do, is to illustrate the importance of not isolating the detail in its own scale. Using Cezanne’s late  paintings of landscape may be a way to discuss these issues.


Cezanne coming out of his studio ,1906

lastly, a quote from Joachim Gasquet (4) who recalls Cezanne explaining his method :

‘All right, look at this : ( repeated his gesture, holding his hands apart, fingers spread wide, bringing them slowly, very slowly together, then squeezing and contracting them until they were interlocked.) There must not be a single line, a single gap, through which the emotion, the light, the truth can escape.I approach all the scattered pieces.I join together natures straying hands, from all sides, here, there, and everywhere I select colors, tones and shades.I set them down , I bring them together..they make lines. They become objects-rocks, trees, without my thinking about them. They take on volume, value. If , as I perceive these, these volumes and values correspond on my canvas to the planes and patches of color that lie before me, that appear to my eyes, well then my canvas ‘joins hands’. It holds firm..its true , dense, full’.

The aim of all complex projects !

(1) David Hockney : Hockney on Art , conversations with Peter Joyce, p214 published Little, Brown Ltd, 1999.

(2)Painter as Critic , Patrick Heron : selected writings p217, published by Tate Publications , 1998.

(3) Souvenirs sur Cezanne, Emile Bernard 1926.

(4) John Rewald : Paul Cezanne, The Watercolors, preface, published by NY Graphic Society  1983.


Images of Cezann’s paintings courtesy The Princeton University Art Museum, photographs by Bruce White.

Bibliography :

Confronting Scale in Archaeology, Issues of Theory and Practice, edited by Gary Lock and Brian Leigh Molyneaux,published by Springer 2006.

Scale & scale – change in the early Middle Ages- exploring landscape, local society, and the world beyond. Edited by J.Escalona and A.Reynolds. 2011 , published by Turnhout, Brepols.

The letters of Paul Cezanne by Alex Danchev , published by Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Cezanne : a Modern Field of Vision lecture by Miranda Creswell, Ashmolean, Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford.

Thank you to all at the Ashmolean for their support over the images and the lecture.