Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: Cezanne's Watercolors: Between Drawing and Painting

Originally posted Posted on November 10, 2009
Cezanne's Watercolors: Between Drawing and Painting
by Mr. Matthew Simms

Cezanne's Watercolors: Between Drawing and Painting
by Mr. Matthew Simms

A look at the more intimate medium of watercolor that sheds light on how the Master of Aix wedded color and form.

The tradition of medium specificity--that water color was intrinsically an unfinished medium, a form of colored drawing, with an emphasis on charm and direct revelation of the artist's character was a commonplace in French art criticism towards the end of the nineteenth century.

In Cezanne's case it became an explicit dialectic between pencil lines and color washes--between the visual and tactile qualities. The use of the white or background tone--the "reserve"--and the ability to render a complete theme as built up of a set of incomplete touches, are both qualities he carried over into his more complete rendering of his oils.

His oils were considered shockingly unfinished by less advanced opinions of the time. However, the watercolors allowed him to take the use of restrained partial touches to an extreme. In some cases, the consist of light pencil indications with the subtlest touches of a brush. When his watercolors were shipped to the United States, custom agents were loathe to consider them to be paintings, as they had "no" paint on them.

This book takes great pains to show the relation between watercolors and oils of the same themes, done at the same time; the oils tend to synthesize and refine the more immediate treatment found in his watercolors, with line like bush strokes that mediate somewhere between a drawn line and a painted area, and with some smaller amount of "reserve" of unpainted areas.

In his final watercolors, Cezanne took great pains to fragment color and look for the "envelope" of the general color impression; these are the works that show the greatest influence by Claude Monet. Monet, in his twentieth century works, in turn, was tremendously influenced by Cezanne to structure his sensations rather than make a direct transcription of his reactions, and to accept a more abstracted and generalized level of finish.

I also learned that you can actually see Cezanne's last work today, a still life watercolor
In his final illness, he got up from his death bed to work on it.

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