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Course: Europe 1800 - 1900 > Unit 5

Lesson 4: Post-Impressionism

Cézanne, Still Life with Plaster Cupid

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Plaster Cupid, oil on canvas, c.1895 (Courtauld Gallery, London) Speakers: Beth Harris, Rachel Ropeik, and Steven Zucker For more: http://smarthistory.org/Cezannes-Still-Life-with-Apples.html. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user ∫∫ Greg Boyle  dG dB
    Were painters such as Cézanne a direct influence on later Cubist painters like Picasso and Braque? It seems like Cézanne's "The Red Rock" (shown later in this playlist) and his "Quarry Bibémus" are spearheading that direction.
    (7 votes)
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user Rebecca Fitzgerald
    How would one distinguish fine art from trash?
    (3 votes)
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    • stelly orange style avatar for user Sayuri
      That is a good question!
      Firstly, I do think it has got something to do with an individual's way of seeing that artwork; their perspective of it that would ultimately lead them to either criticize or ardently admire it.
      In the case of this painting of Cezanne's and what I have observed from those of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, it seems that they have very consciously and with deliberate calculation laid out their own rules and followed them. They wanted to deviate from the conventional, academic principles of making art. It is not that they were unable to follow conventional methods of painting, it's just that they chose not to.
      And I think it is in that choice itself that their artistic thought shines through. Their consequent execution of their artworks is a testament to it!
      (2 votes)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Did the common public "get" this art? I mean, did they really understand this art the way we believe we do today after all these years of study? I can easily understand why an amateur might see this painting as rubbish, but at the same time I can see a Parisian public loving the "new" and the "different"...
    (3 votes)
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  • female robot ada style avatar for user Z. A. de Bruyn
    Does anyone ever look at the works of Cezanne, Ganguin, and the like and think "this artist was the post-impressionist incarnation of a troll"? Because I sometimes wonder if they were just messing with people...
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

(jazzy music) Male: We're in the Courtauld Galleries and we're looking at Still Life of Plaster Cast. It dates to the middle of his career. Female 1: I do think it's a little bit hard to find one point of view that works for this whole painting. If you look at the table in the foreground with these fruits and this little plaster cast, then that seems to have been painted from one angle, and if you look toward the background then all of a sudden it's is that the floor or is that a piece of drapery? It's hard to unify. Male: Okay, so maybe we should start in the foreground. We have this plaster cast of a putti, of this little angelic figure; no arms. He's rather cute. He's a little elongated and he's in a kind of contrapposto so that he's actually moving. What Cezanne seems to have done is to actually accentuate the turn of his body, which becomes a kind of axis for the entire painting. Then something even more interesting happens, which is that as you move back, you see a series of stacked canvases, perhaps the stretcher bar of a canvas that's facing away from us, a canvas seen at an oblique angle just in back of the putti's back. We can actually make out a figure on the upper right. Then there's a piece of fruit. Female 1: A giant piece of fruit. Male: Which is on the floor, perhaps? Or is it a ball? It seems to come forward. What that does visually is it pushes the entire canvas up and forward in the back and really denies any kind of spacial depth. Female 2: It then completes the circle around the painting by bringing your attention back to the foreground that you've kind of been tipped back into. Also, because the subject of that painting that we see a little bit of in the background is facing back towards us, and we have the fruit on the floor, maybe, which is kind of connected back to the fruit on the table in the foreground, so it does make the composition complete. Female 1: Everything seems to be shifting slightly. The cupid figure, as you said, seems to twist, or Cezanne exaggerates that twist. The figure in the back that's part of a painting, I presume. Male: That's rendered, yeah. Female 1: Seems to be moving. If you look closely at the outlines of the fruit, they seem to sort of slightly shift. Nothing seems to be stable. Everything is in flux. Male: What kind of intentionality is in back of this? Why in the world would Cezanne want to do such a thing? It's such a complicated and problematic rendering and space, and there are alignments that make it even more quirky. For instance, if that's an onion, a very large onion bulb, in the lower left, just in back of the putti's feet, the skin of the onion seems to end and the green starts just at the line where we see the floor end. That line continues up and picks up the opposite hip of the putti, and then the groin picks up the edge again of the canvas. There's this whole series of almost Degas-like intersections that play fast and loose with our expectations of space. Female 1: Which clearly points out that it's not that Cezanne didn't know what he was doing by mixing all these points of view and twisting everything around; that it was a conscious artistic choice, and this is still a carefully composed image, even though it's not necessarily how we traditionally think of a still life. Male: For instance, the table being at the angle of the foot that comes towards us, but I'm seeing as the hips turn in a sense space turning as well as defined by the canvas in back of it. Then is it possible that the face is aligned even with the canvas in back of that so that the reality is constructed by the figure within it? Female 1: Is it insane to be thinking of Matisse's Red Studio right now? This is an artist's studio. We have stacked canvases. We have images that the artist is working on, pieces of still life, and we have a canvas that's unified by a close to single tonality of blues, with some reds and greens. There's something about, perhaps, an interpretation of the space of the artist's studio from a more personal point of view, although it's hard to read the personal into Cezanne, because it seems to much about space and construction and shape. Male: Although some art historians, I'm thinking Myra Shapiro, certainly bring the personal in through the forms in the still life. I would suspect that Matisse was working through issues that Cezanne is raising here and in other canvases of this time, with the dismantling of space, but I think they have to do, really, with the subjectivity of the viewer in space, and do we actually construct space as we move through it? And is space, in fact, a much more subjective and constructed set of issues as opposed to the sort of ideal architectural understanding? Female 1: You can see why the Modernists of the early 20th century would pick up on this because there's something even in a way more radical in this reassembling of space. (jazzy music)