A couple months ago, I visited the new Barnes Museum in Philadelphia. An advertisement for the Cezanne exhibit had caught my attention. Paul Cezanne was a French, post impressionist artist. His work bridges the 19th century to the 20th century, impressionism to cubism. Matisse and Picasso are both known to have said Cezanne is "the father of us all."
When I think of Cezanne, I think of apples. Turns out that alone would make Cezanne happy. He wanted to make the apple - an ordinary object - spectacular. He wanted to give us the ability to look at the simplest things and see detail and I'd even add emotion. For me, he succeeded.
The Barnes Foundation has an impressive Cezanne collection on its own. By the time we meandered through the museum, comparing Cezanne and Renoir along the way, the apples in the special exhibit seems almost too much to digest. Pun intended.
The art, and music, from the turn of the 20th century speaks to me. As far as art is concerned it's the deeper colors, the stronger lines, the harshness of the figures and scenes. It's like the world lost its soft light or rosy edge. I wonder if that's what drove Cezanne to paint apples after apples? When the world is losing its soft edges, do we seek out the simple pleasures? Chaos and disease, poverty, mass human growth and change - an apple in the middle of the day sounds like a really good plan to me.
I didn't study art; I studied music. Essentially this means that I don't have the experience of a high school art class where all eyes are placed on a still life set before the class. I have tried on my own, colored pencil in hand, to capture everyday objects on paper. Suffice it to say, I do better with words than with drawing. And so walking through hallways filled with Cezanne's capture of the apple, the table, the glass, the skull, the flowers, I mostly wonder how did he capture both the image and the essence of something deeper using paint? How did he do that? How do others do that?
The picture that stopped me in my tracks was one similar to this still life. It contained a glass half filled with liquid. How do you paint glass? I stood in front of it for a long time until my eyes saw the picture behind the glass. The glass reflects that which is around it. Maybe I would've learned this in a beginner's art class, maybe everyone else knows how to paint glass. The painting behind it, the action or objects behind the glass is what gave shape to the glass.
I certainly can wax poetic about the need to see things in context or widen our lens to see what is behind, under, beyond what we see naturally. But I mostly just wanted to look at the painting, to take in the extraordinary captured in the ordinary.