Interview : Picasso-Cezanne 2009

L'homme à la pipe" de Cézanne et "Le fumeur" de Picasso

© "L'homme à la pipe" de Cézanne et "Le fumeur" de Picasso/ ©The Samuel Courtauld Trust, Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery - Londres© succession Picasso 2009

A return to Aix-en-Provence in the mid-summer brings me surprise. I am happy to see with my own eyes (at last!) the Sainte-Victoire immortalized by Cezanne and a fabulous show, Picasso – Cézanne, in Musée Granet. The silhouette of the famous mountain is still discernable as in the paintings of Cézanne, especially the slopes. However, one does not see many of Cézanne’s landscapes in the exhibition since the focus of the show is Picasso instead of Cézanne and Picasso is more a figurative than a landscape painter.

Paul Cézanne, Fruits, serviette et boîte à lait, vers 1880, Musée National de l'Orangerie, Paris.

Paul Cézanne, Fruits, serviette et boîte à lait, vers 1880, Musée National de l'Orangerie, Paris. © Rmn / Hervé Lewandowski © Succession Picasso 2009. Huile sur toile, 60 x 73 cm

The show starts with a little still life of Cézanne in the 1880s, portraying fruits (mainly his famous apples and oranges), napkins, milk pot and wallpaper with quadrangle patterns. The painting stands alone against an empty wall at the entrance, in an unusual yet friendly position, lower than the usual 160cm eye-level… Is it reminding us that Picasso wasn’t tall? Or is this position similar to that of a preface in a book? Indeed, it announces very well the show… The famous apples of Cézanne, for example, much admired and studied by Picasso and Picasso once said with much confidence in his youth days that “I am going to conquer Paris with an apple!” Conceited, yet he did. Cézanne has many apples, Picasso sees them all in one, but a big one, named Cubism, and he throws it to the world like a bomb. The wallpaper, another example, reappeared in many of Cézanne’s still-life but also later in Picasso’s portraits of his many mistresses.

The show is divided into four parts, Picasso regarde Cézanne, Picasso collectionne Cézanne, Themes et formes partages, Picasso se rapproache de Cézanne. As the emphasis is on Picasso, there is a general pattern in all four parts, i.e. one or two Cézanne with several Picassos to follow. Like a hard-working student who experiments hundreds times of the teaching of his master, in order to understand, yes, but also to expand the theory and to finally liberate himself from the master’s influence and to find his own path. One “Arlequin” of Cézanne in 1888, for example, would be three “Arlequin” of Picasso within a time span of 60 years from 1913 to 1971. The bather is of course more evidential in this comparison. But important works are difficult to negotiate for a loan, such as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which is a wonderful example of how Picasso looked at Cézanne.

Arlequin, 1888-1890, Paul Cézanne, Arlequin, 1917, Pablo Picasso

on the right : Arlequin, 1888-1890, Paul Cézanne, National Gallery of Art, Washington, © Washington, National Gallery of Art, © Succession Picasso 2009, Huile sur toile, 101 x 65 cm. On the left : Arlequin, 1917, Pablo Picasso, Museu Picasso, Barcelone, © Museu Picasso. Barcelona – Gasull Fotografia, © Succession Picasso 2009, Huile sur toile, 116x90 cm.

A comparative study of Picasso and Cézanne is not new. Imagine how many Ph.D. theses had been devoted to the topic. What’s new for me here in this exhibition is the image of Picasso. Suddenly, we see a high-profile man who’s capable of creating a myth around him sinks into deep meditation, an intimate moment when his flare cedes to the humbleness and modesty of another painter whose greatness he admires but not necessarily submits to. If the rivalry between Picasso and Matisse is an immediate hard combat, the desire to surpass Cézanne is a silent enduring confrontation. The very minimalist scenography of white, grey and black is itself very meditative and calm, too, like Picasso looking at night, thinking about Cézanne.

One thing interesting is that, even though Picasso bought and settled in Château Vauvenargues at the foot of Sainte-Victoire in 1959, which to him is the ultimate appropriation of Cézanne (he told his art dealer that he bought the Sainte-Victoire, not a Cézanne but “the real one!” and he said “I live in Cézanne’s”), he never painted Sainte-Victoire. The catalogue of the exhibition says that in fact Picasso never really appropriated a painting of Cézanne in the same way he did of Velasquez, Delacroix or Manet. He left Cézanne intact as his pure source of inspiration. What does this tell us of the complexes?

When I was in Château Vauvenargues, I found out that, in fact, one cannot see Sainte-Victoire from inside of the castle. It’s not oriented towards the mountain. From the three big windows of Picasso’s atelier, one sees the garden and further away, the village of Vauvenargues which Picasso painted several landscapes during his two-year’s stay there. A decision of his or his last wife Jacqueline, today, Picasso rests in eternality at the entrance of the castle, in the company of Cézanne’s landscape.

Château Vauvenargues de Picasso

Château Vauvenargues de Picasso, photographed by initiArt Magazine

Château Vauvenargues is a private estate owned by Jacqueline’s daughter, Catherine Hutin, and it opens for the public for the first time. The guide said that Picasso preferred to keep the interior as what it used to be before he bought the castle. But he did move in and hung his collection on the walls. Today, what we see is an almost empty castle with nails on the wall to indicate the places of a Matisse, a Cézanne, a Braque, an African mask, and some pieces of furniture occasionally scattered in the rooms. In the atelier, we see some big and small easels around the beautiful baroque fireplace, drips of paints on the floor, two chairs painted by Picasso, some primitive objects on the wall and on the floor. The place is sacred. No photograph is allowed; mobile phone must be switched off and touch absolutely nothing there. Yes, it’s a sacred place because here rests one of the greatest men of the 20th Century, but it’s sacred also because of his descendants continue to fabricate the myth of the man. I imagine the humble old home and atelier of Cézanne to be more approachable and humane.

Picasso – Cézanne
Musée Granet
27 May – 29 Sept 2009