Card Players by Paul Cezanne

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Card Players by Paul Cezanne

Paul Cézanne was the boldest spirit in the circle of the Ecole de Batignolles that gathered round Manet. The essential principle among all of them was not color–this varied in every case–but flat painting as opposed to modelling in paint. In this Cézanne surpassed even the leader of the group. We may take it for granted that in periods of evolution the matter round which the efforts of all revolve will be fermenting at the same moment in individual minds, and that he who is most articulate will become the leader of the rest.

For this position Cézanne was in no sense fitted. He was a very reserved person; of the younger generation none ever saw him; artists who owe him everything never exchanged a word with him. His very existence has been doubted. Since his sojourn with Dr. Gachet he has never, as far as I know, left the South of France. He lives, I have heard, at Aix. Gachet describes him as the exact antithesis of Van Gogh, utterly incapable of formulating his purposes, absolutely unconscious, a bundle of instincts, which he was anxious not to dissipate.

The result with him was a purely sensuous form of art. He gave what he could and what he would, not a fraction more, and in external things not even so much as this. Occasionally he did not even trouble himself to cover over certain small blank spots on his pictures, and these are the despair of honest owners nowadays–others paint them over. But this superficial defect is really nothing more nor less than the frayed out corner of a splendid old tapestry. Sometimes, indeed, the whole tapestry is reduced to the warp. And even with this we cannot quarrel, for the fabric is always lovely, even when it shows but a few threads.

Cézanne’s whole character made for obscurity. It never occurred to him to sign his pictures, like Guys and Van Gogh; he never gave any sign of life beyond pictures, and these had to be taken from him almost by force. Small wonder, therefore, that he was an old man before it occurred to a few of his friends and compatriots to notice him. It is only for the last few years that he has begun to count at all in the art market.

Like Van Gogh, he owes this recognition to the little shop in the Rue Lafitte owned by Vollard, one of those remarkable dealers only produced by Paris, who are sometimes better connoisseurs, or, rather, have surer artistic instincts, than the connoisseurs themselves. The event that established his reputation was his friend Choquet’s sale at Petit’s in the summer of 1899. For three hot afternoons in the middle of the dead season, when there is not a soul in Paris, purchasers fought for his best things, collected by an oddity who had been laughed at as a madman a short time before.

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