Magazine: Spring 2018

It is commonly understood that when you compare very alike things, you notice their differences. When comparing unlike things, it can take a little longer to notice their similarities—but eventually I became aware that, notwithstanding the radicalism of Cézanne’s approach, he made constant use of standard types of landscape depictions—woodland panoramas, rocky landscapes, glades of trees, and so on—that have been employed by artists for many centuries. [...] Seeing such a range of earlier landscapes...makes clear that every depiction of landscape has always been something that the artist selected from the land, modifying and organizing it in ways that draw upon standard types. Even the most detailed topographical landscape is not a mere transcription of the scene. But it was not only the extent—rather than the fact—of Cézanne’s shaping of an observed scene that distinguished him from his predecessors. He spoke of his “realization sur nature,” a realization not of but on nature, treating the observed scene as a motif on which to base his own. Seen in the context of the earlier works [by other artists], his landscape watercolors in particular reveal the step further that he took, his response to the land being shaped—more explicitly than before—by an acknowledgment that what is real in art is different and independent from the actuality of nature.

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Paul Cézanne