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Course: Europe 1800 - 1900 > Unit 5

Lesson 4: Post-Impressionism

Cézanne, The Red Rock

Paul Cézanne, The Red Rock, c. 1895, oil on canvas, 91 x 66 cm (Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Victor Yuan
    Does anyone know how long it took to paint this painting?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • starky ultimate style avatar for user Steven Zucker
      The time a specific work of art takes to complete is an interesting question to me. Obviously, with a work of art where scale or detail and constructive technique is primary, the time it took for the artist to execute the work is important to know. But even then, there are many complicating factors. Were members of the artist's workshop assisting? Did a sculptor employ masons or a foundry? What of preliminary sketches or related projects? It is also the case that artists often work on numerous canvases at the same time and very often go back to a painting even years later. Its also worth spending time examining the underlying assumptions embedded in this question. Are we bound to the Modernist idea of the individual genius even as we try to reconcile the loss of craftsmanship as a value in so much advanced art of the 19th and 20th Centuries? Do we want the artist to be a genius? Do we want to tie this notion of genius or the value of the painting itself to time of execution and if so, how does that work? Whistler's flip answer to this question in his libel trail against John Ruskin was, that it took him his entire life to paint the picture. Ruskin had accused him of simply flinging a pot of paint in the face of the public. That is, Whistler is stating it took him the whole of his experience and learning to have been able to produce this new thing in the world. For me, the most interesting question isn't how long it took Cézanne to produce this series of strokes on this particular canvas, but rather what did it mean to him and what has it come to mean for us.
      (20 votes)

Video transcript

(jazzy music) Male: We're in the l'Orangerie in Paris and we're looking at a late Paul Cezanne, The Red Rock. This is actually one of my favorite landscapes by Cezanne. Female: What makes it one of your favorites? Male: He loved painting rocks, quaries and the forest. This is just so outrageous. You've got this huge abstract shape in the upper right corner, which is an overhanging rock ledge, but it is so unexpected and so weighty and abstract. Female: You said weighty, but it has no bottom, so it feels to me like it hovers in midair. Male: It's true, and even as I said weighty, I was thinking we know it's heavy, we know it's massive, but actually in a pictorial sense maybe not so much. This is a painting where Cezanne has perfected these short stippled brushstrokes, which create this wonderful sense of the buzz of a very hot afternoon. If you've been in a semiarid environment like the south of France, or maybe the desert in the western United States, you can hear the insects. Female: You're right. It feels very much like a very hot afternoon. I also sense the leaves rustling a little bit in the dry, hot wind. Male: So, he's drawn us into this landscape. He's given us this ochre path with these alternating bands of shadow. We're not that far away from Classical landscape of 17th and 18th centuries. Female: Our eye does travel down that path and we can almost feel ourselves walking through the space. Male: That's right, but then something happens that upends that more traditional recessionary space which is if you look at the curve of the pathway, it starts in the center and it's fairly large, and then it recedes and gets narrower as our eye moves into space, and bends ever so slightly to the right. But then you'll notice that there are the same colors that pick up in a similar arc, but now up in the trees. Is that a rock that's seen through the trees, perhaps? But optically it plays fast and loose with the recession that we had been comfortable with a moment before. Female: There's lots in the painting that does that. The violet that makes for those horizontal shadows that you just mentioned is carried up through the landscape. We're not meant, I think, to read space in the traditional way here. Male: I think Cezanne is not only questioning the Classical landscape, but I think he's also questioning the Impressionist landscape. Remember, he had shown in the 1874 Exhibition, and then comes back down to the south of France and begins these series of investigations. Cezanne here has given us a space into which we can walk. At the same time, he is simply, emphatically refusing to give us that space. That rock comes up and forward. Those trees and that sky create deep space but also resist deep space. There's just the sense of completely turning all of the traditions of landscape on its head; not necessarily knowing where he's going, by the way. I think that this is really exploration, but exploration that is also really beautiful. This is a painting that is clearly creating the densest possible field of color and form. That sense of density, that focus on the paint itself on the surface and on the two-dimensionality of the canvas, seems to me irrefutable. Look, for instance, at the center where those warm, rich orange ochres are rising up and the way in which they're overlayed by the greens and those black purples. Female: It's very abstract. Male: It's incredibly abstract and incredibly dense. The paint itself is forthright. Female: That's true. Male: So it is about paint and dismantling the expectations of traditional landscape. (jazzy music)