Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mont Sainte-Victoire

Cézanne's definition of a motif: 'You see, a motif is this...' (He put his hands together, drew them apart, the ten fingers open, then slowly, very slowly brought them together again, clasped them, squeezed them tightly, meshing them.) 'That's what one should try to achieve. If one hand is held too high or too low, it won't work. Not a single link should be too slack, leaving a hole through which the emotion, the light, the truth can escape. You must understand that I work on the whole canvas, on everything at once. With one impulse, with undivided faith, I approach all the scattered bits and pieces. Everything we see falls apart, vanishes, doesn't it? Nature is always the same, but nothing in her that appears to us, lasts. Our art must render the thrill of her permanence along with her elements, the appearance of all her changes. It must give us a taste of her eternity.'

This comes from Joachim Gasquet's recollections (for a fuller quotation see the Webmuseum). Cézanne was clear that there was a difference between a motif like this and a 'beautiful view'. Richard Verdi, in his book on the artist, illustrates the difference by comparing early scenic views of the Gulf of Marseilles (painted in 1879-82) with later landscapes where trees frame a tighter composition. But the great example of a motif is of course Mont Sainte-Victoire, and the example way tree and mountain combine to structure the view in the painting below recalls the metaphor of the interlocking hands that Gasquet quoted.

Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1885-87
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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