Friday, July 6, 2012

What is in the landscape?


Camille Pissarro, Vegetable Garden, Eragny: Overcast Morning, 1901
Camille Pissaro and Paul Cezanne met in the mid 19th century, and quickly struck up a close friendship that lasted over 20 years. The two painters frequently corresponded with letters detailing their work and artistic goals. They each had high admiration of the other, and Cezanne acknowleded that Pissarro "was a father for me." It is known from contemporary photographs that Cezanne often had Pissarro paintings hanging in his own studio, and that Pissarro also owned paintings of Cezanne's. On occasion they painted side by side, and there are instances where they approached the same subject matter, each in their own way.

Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley, 1882-1885

Camille Pissaro, Landscape (Orchard), 1892

Paul Cezanne, Millstone in the Park of the Chateau Noir, 1898-1900

Camille Pissarro, Haystacks, Morning, Eragny, 1899

Paul Cezanne, View of the Bay of Marseille with the Village of Saint-Henri, 1883

Camille Pissarro, Summer Landscape, Eragny, 1887 and 1902
Of course there are differences in formal technique, but what really stands out for me with these two painters is their insistance on what to do with people. Pissarro almost always makes a point of including them in the landscape, and Cezanne almost always makes a point of keeping them out. It is a constant, how each approaches the subject, and in fact this is a way that you can identify one of their paintings before even looking at the museum wall plaque. If there is a person dressed for work in the frame of the landscape, it is most likely a Pissarro. But if there is no person then it is almost certainly a Cezanne. And this is true of these artists over the course of their entire careers. These are painters who constantly explored new techniques, who were radical experimenters, really, but who never gave up their allegiance for or against the person taking a walk.

Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1902-4

Camille Pissarro, Cote des Grouettes, near Pontoise, 1978?
Do you know wine writers like that? Are there observers of wine regions who steadfastly include the winemaker in their appraisal of place, and others who just as surely won't? I feel like there are. Which is to say nothing about their respective brilliance as commentators. But it does seem like some wine writers would credit the vineyard worker as much as possible, while others would have you believe that he is invisible and unimportant to the picture.

Paul Cezanne, Bay of L'Estaque, 1879-1883

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