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Paul Cézanne  
Looking for Cézanne
In a celebrated letter Cézanne speaks of the magic moment when "the canvas clasps its hands" as in prayer. Religion, whether defined as a "binding together", or as a "re-reading" brings Cézanne closer to Rousseau and the romantics than to the century that his painting ushered in. Underlying it is passionate faith, humility, and an uncompromising commitment to man’s relationship to the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation. It is hardly surprising that such esoteric preoccupations should fail to sit well with the prevailing bourgeois spirit of a small market town living on the memory of its past.
Though "his" railway viaduct now spans an autoroute as well as the valley of the Arc, green pastures still lurk among the tangled geometry of invasive concrete "cubism". Few baigneuses, big or small, naked or clad, sport by the Arc, though the landscape is still unmistakeably Cézanne’s... the mountain still stands guard, and "the world" is beginning to talk. "When one is born there, tout est foutu", so wrote Cézanne from Talloires to his good friend Philippe Solari. It was the land that he loved; social integration was another matter.
"... I have walked with a farmer behind his cart, on his way to sell his potatoes at market. He never saw the Mont Sainte-Victoire though he knows what is planted along the roadside, and where, what tomorrow’s weather will be like, if the mountain is wearing its hat or not, he sniffs it out, like an animal, as a dog that, to satisfy its needs, recognizes a piece of bread ; but, that trees are green, and that this green, is a tree, this earth red, and these reds, the bared earth of the hills, I don’t believe that most of them feel it, or that they even know it except in their utilitarian unconscious."
What Cézanne would make of the "utilitarian unconscious" of the twentieth century is best left to the imagination. Somewhere, half way between the imposing tomb which contains Picasso’s remains in the park of the château de Vauvenargues, and the family vault that houses Cézanne’s on the other side of the mountain, rises the long crest of the massif de la Sainte-Victoire. We may imagine, to the north, the protean spirit of the twentieth century, universal zeitgeist, mirror, crystal ball, catalyst and illusionist, whose prolific inventiveness remains a perpetual challenge. On the other side, Cézanne’s grave, the universality of a single human spirit struggling with the soul that he, like the dog, has sniffed all his life, and which lies, not in a "utilitarian unconscious", but in the depth of "human being and being human". Its highest expression transcends time and history ; it is an ecstasy forged in the encounter between the eye of the artist and nature. All else is vanity. If, in the year 2000 visitors still flock to Aix-en-Provence, it is, perhaps, because Cézanne has transmitted a message which is reassuring, accessible to all. "The world" has sniffed it out, and needs it.
PS : On August 28, 1989, the Mont Sainte-Victoire caught fire. Newspapers blamed the Mistral wind, and the sparks from a treedozer. Others speculate that Cézanne and Picasso were engaged in heated discussion.


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