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Conversations with Cézanne

Michael Doran (Editor), Julie Lawrence Cochran (Translator), Richard Shiff (Introduction)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 312 pages
ISBN: 9780520225190
July 2001
$29.95, £22.95
Michael Doran has gathered texts by contemporaries of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)—including artists, critics, and writers—that illuminate the influential painter's philosophy of art especially in his late years. The book includes historically important essays by a dozen different authors, including Emile Bernard, Joaquim Gasquet, Maurice Denis, and Ambroise Vollard, along with selections from Cézanne's own letters.

In addition to the material included in the original French edition of the book, which has also been published in German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese, this edition contains an introduction written especially for it by noted Cézanne scholar Richard Shiff. The book closes with Lawrence Gowing's magisterial essay, "The Logic of Organized Sensations," first published in 1977 and long out of print.

Cézanne's work, and the thinking that lay behind it, have been of inestimable importance to the artists who followed him. This gathering of writings will be of enormous interest to artists, writers, art historians—indeed to all students of modern art.

Introduction by Richard Shiff


Gustave Geffroy: Excerpt from Claude Monet, His Life, His Times, His Works
Ambroise Vollard: Excerpt from Paul Cézanne
Léo Larguier: Excerpt from Sunday with Paul Cézanne
Jules Borély: 'Cézanne at Aix' (L'Art Vivant)
Emile Bernard: Letter to His Mother (5 February 1904)
Paul Cézanne: Letters to Emile Bernard (April to June, 1904)
Emile Bernard: 'Paul Cézanne' (L'Occident)
Paul Cézanne: Letters to Emile Bernard (July 1904 to September 1906)
Emile Bernard: 'Memories of Paul Cézanne' (Mercure de France)
Francis Jourdain: Excerpt from Cézanne
R. P. Rivière and J. F. Schnerb: 'The Studio of Cézanne' (La Grande Revue)
Maurice Denis: Excerpt from the Journal
Karl Ernst Osthaus: 'A Visit to Paul Cézanne' (Das Feuer)
Paul Cézanne: My Confessions


Joachim Gasquet: 'What He Said to Me' (excerpt from Cézanne)
Emile Bernard: 'A Conversation with Cézanne' (Mercure de France)
Maurice Denis: 'Cézanne' (excerpt from Theories)
Lawrence Gowing: 'The Logic of Organized Sensations'



Michael Doran, who is both an art historian and a practicing artist, was formerly the Librarian of the Courtauld Institute in London.
"This is an extraordinary book. It not only contains all the accounts written by those who met Cézanne and spoke with him (including several 'interviews' with the painter), but it also puts these accounts in perspective."—Yves-Alain Bois, Harvard University

"Doran's collection of diverse primary sources recording Cézanne's theories and the early critical reception of his art is an essential monument in the painter's bibliography, previously not accessible. And Gowing's thoughtful essay serves as a superb model for how such primary material should be consulted."—Mary Tompkins Lewis, author of Cézanne

Chapter One


The encounter with the critic Geffroy (1855-1926) was a stage in that process by which, during the 1890s, Cézanne widened his circle of acquaintances, and became (within limits) a more accessible figure than hitherto. He had been largely out of the public eye since 1877, and had exhibited only twice (1882 and 1889) in the following decade.

    The writer Geffroy, liberal (and even anarchist) in his political sympathies, was a firm friend of Monet's, and was introduced by him to many of the impressionist painters at the monthly dinners held at the Café Riche from 1890 to 1894. Possibly prompted by Monet, Geffroy wrote a sympathetic article about Cézanne in Le Journal, 25 March 1894. This pleased Cézanne (letter of 26th March 1894, to Geffroy) and there followed the meeting at Monet's on 28th November 1894, described in the following extract (pages 196 to 198) from Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son oeuvre, 1922 (published again in two volumes in 1924 with the title Claude Monet, sa vie, son úuvre.).

Excerpt from Claude Monet, His Life, His Times, His Works

In 1894, Monet began to see his friend Cézanne again, and Cézanne came to stay a while at the inn at Giverny. Monet invited several friends to a gathering in his honor, and wrote to me on November 23:

(...) It's all set for Wednesday. I hope that Cézanne will still be here and that he will join us, but he is so shy, so afraid of meeting new people, that I am afraid that he might let us down, even though he wants very much to meet you. How sad it is that this man hasn't had more patronage in his life! This is a true artist who has come to doubt himself far too much. He needs to be cheered up, so he was quite touched by your article.

Cézanne renewed his friendship with Monet, then, after years of separation. Settled in the inn, Cézanne kept busy painting in the surrounding area and agreeing from time to time to come to the home of his old friend, where one day he found himself in the company of Rodin, Clemenceau, Mirbeau, and me at Monet's. He appeared to us immediately to be a loner, shy yet violent, emotional in the extreme. Among other things, he demonstrated the measure of his innocence (or of his confusion), by taking Mirbeau and me aside to tell us, with tears in his eyes, "He's not proud, Monsieur Rodin; he shook my hand! Such an honored man!!!" Even better, after lunch, he actually knelt before Rodin, in the middle of a path, to thank him again for having shaken his hand. Hearing such things, one could only feel sympathy for the primitive soul of Cézanne, who was, at that moment, as sociable as he was capable of being and seemed, with his laughter and his witticisms, to be having a good time in our company. Clemenceau, with whom Cézanne conversed later, regaling him with jokes, had a special gift for making him open up and relax.

    Cézanne told me one day that he could not become a supporter of Clemenceau, which I had not asked him to do, in any case. And he gave me this astonishing reason: "It's because I'm too weak! ... And Clemenceau could not protect me! ... Only the Church can protect me!" I do not believe, however, that, as Ambroise Vollard wrote, Cézanne renounced finishing my portrait because of Clemenceau. It was not exactly that. In fact, it was not that at all. Cézanne seemed to like me as a friend and asked to paint my portrait with the hope of exhibiting it in "Bouguereau's Salon" as he called it. "Perhaps," he added, "we will win a medal!" So he came almost every day for three months to my apartment, on the heights of Belleville where I lived at that time, lunching cordially with my mother and my sister or allowing himself be taken to the restaurant at the lake of Saint-Fargeau. He worked during this time on a painting, which, in spite of its unfinished state, is one of his most beautiful works. The library, the papers on the table, Rodin's little plaster model, the artificial rose which he brought at the beginning of our sittings, everything is first-rate. There is also a person in the scene, painted with meticulous care and richness of tone, and with incomparable harmony. He had only sketched in the face, and he would always say, "We'll leave that for the end." Sadly, there was no end. One fine day, Cézanne sent for his easel, his brushes, and his paints, writing to say that this task was too great for his powers, that he had made a mistake in attempting it and apologizing for abandoning it. I insisted that he come back, convincing him, as I truly believed, that he had begun a very beautiful work of art and that he had to finish it. He came back, and, for a week or so, he seemed to work, building up, as only he could do, those slender films of color, always maintaining the fresh and brilliant appearance of his canvas. But his heart was no longer in it. He left for Aix and a year later, on April 3, 1896, sent again for his painting equipment. He never came again, leaving the portrait as he left so many other paintings which are no less admirable in conception or realization for being unfinished. The degree of finish of a painting does not reflect negatively on the skill of the painter who, nonetheless, shows the full measure of his art in so many ways.

    As for me, I shall always remember the times at Belleville when I had the pleasure of seeing Cézanne paint with such passion and faith! I shall always see him, mumbling words under his gray mustache, laughing and crying again as he did at Monet's, and uttering infinitely true and ingenious things about painting. He was very critical of his contemporaries, except for Monet, whom he deemed "the strongest of us all." He would say, "Monet! I would place him in the Louvre!" He became angry at another painter whom he accused of having "stolen his little `sensation.'" He harped on it incessantly: "I had only one little sensation, and Monsieur Gauguin stole it from me!" Cézanne, who was such an innovator, had no sympathy for the current discoveries and doctrines in painting, saying, "I like Baron Gros, how can I take these farces seriously?" It is true, he loved the old masters, the Venetians, the Louvre so much, that he might stop by the museum before coming to my place to confirm what I had told him about the silvery aspect of The Lace Maker by Van der Meer. What I loved most of all in him was his enthusiasm. He would proclaim, "I will astonish Paris with an apple!"



The Creole Vollard (1867-1939), having frequented the Paris shop in the rue Clauzel of Tanguy, a seller of painters' materials, had there seen works of Gauguin and Cézanne, for whom Tanguy was the sole dealer in the early 90s. Vollard established himself as a dealer in the rue Laffitte in 1893.

    He made his way in the art world with cunning and pertinacity, advised at first by Pissarro and by Degas. He held exhibitions of drawings by Manet and by Forain, and at the latter caught sight of Cézanne, but without knowing who he was.

    Pissarro (with Monet, Renoir, and Guillaumin) persuaded Vollard to organize a one-man exhibition of Cézanne's works. Tanguy had now died, and Vollard, making contact only through Paul Cézanne Junior, put on a large Cézanne exhibition (December, 1895). In 1896 he became Gauguin's dealer, and so—in a sense—Tanguy's successor. In May and June, 1898, after a visit (1896) to Aix, when he finally met Cézanne, Vollard mounted a second exhibition of his works. He became his dealer, and at the sale in 1899 of the collection of Chocquet, one of Cézanne's first important patrons, bought for him a Delacroix watercolor of flowers which the painter had always admired and of which he subsequently made a copy in oil (Bouquet de Fleurs, 1900-03, Moscow, Pushkin Museum, RP893 V757). Cézanne undertook the painting of Vollard's portrait in the same year.

    By Vollard's account, they seem not to have met often after 1899 (though he records a meeting in late 1905): nevertheless he was now firmly entrenched as his dealer. "Vollard takes all as the work is done" (Denis, Journal).

    Vollard's Paul Cézanne of 1914, pages 94 to 96 of which are here reprinted, should in part be seen as a luxurious example of an art dealer's publicity, rather than an accurate monograph. Vividness, effectiveness, picturesqueness are striven for at all costs, and there is a particular stress upon the uncouthness of Cézanne's manner and language, presumably regarded as a sign of artistic genius, and resulting in a figure that has been called the Cézanne-Vollard-Ubu (Rewald, 1939, 11, citing Huyghe).

    Vollard's way with his sources is a ruthless one. Reff (1960, 154-5) has given examples of transformations of material from Cézanne's own letters. It may also be noted that Vollard may have had access to Maurice Denis' Journal, or talked with Denis himself, for he offers a version of the 1906 encounter between Cézanne and Denis on the steps of Saint-Sauveur at Aix, misleadingly placed in a chapter headed "1899." The original Journal entry is elsewhere in this volume.

    Vollard also made use of Emile Bernard's early writings on Cézanne (again demonstrated by Reff, 1960, 155) and without acknowledgment derived his account of the Cézanne of 1860-70 from Guillemet (Rewald, 1961, 622).

    It is also possible, but not probable, that the episode of the dog (given in this excerpt) is an invention based upon a reference by Royère (1906, 379-80), to Cézanne's dislike of barking dogs: but it is much more likely that Vollard and Royère are giving independent accounts. However, Vollard may sometimes have used Royère, for elsewhere (36, not in this excerpt) he has Cézanne quoting from Bacon a definition of art as Homo additus naturae, whereas in Royère (1906, 379) it is Puvis de Chavannes who makes the Baconian citation. Nevertheless much in Vollard is direct and convincing, and his account of the painting of his portrait by Cézanne, although open to some criticism (see note 4), is given here.

    The splendid volume of 1914 was followed by cheaper editions in 1919 and 1924 (see bibliography). In these the text was a little altered from that of 1914: the "revue et augmentée" 1924 version in fact had only unimportant additions. In these early publications of the work, the utterance "[...] all, in nature, is spherical and cylindrical," derived from Denis Journal, 29, stands intact: in at least one late edition (in English, New York, Crown Publishers, 1937), the sphere becomes a cube, presumably to stress the affinities between the respective styles of Cézanne and of the cubists.

Excerpt from Paul Cézanne

Whenever he began a sitting or took up his interrupted work, Cézanne, his brush raised, always looked at me with an unyielding, fixed gaze. This time he seemed disturbed. I listened to him mumbling with rage between his clenched teeth, "That Dominique [Ingres] is damned talented!" Then, making a stroke with his brush and stepping back to judge its effect, he added "but he bores the shit out of me!"

    Every afternoon Cézanne would go to the Louvre or to the Trocadero to sketch the old masters. Sometimes, around five in the afternoon, he would stop by my place, his face glowing with happiness, and say, "Mr. Vollard, I have good news to tell you; I am so satisfied with this afternoon that if the weather tomorrow provides a pale gray light I think that our session will go well." It was one of his principal preoccupations at day's end: what will the weather be tomorrow? Since he went to bed early, often he would wake up in the middle of the night. Always haunted by this idea, he looked out the window at the sky. Then, once decided on this important matter and before going back to bed, carrying a candle he would go and review the work in process. If he felt good about it, he would go at once to share his satisfaction with his wife. He would awaken her and afterward, to make up for having disturbed her, he would invite her to play a game of checkers before going back to bed.

    But before a sitting had any chance of succeeding, it was not enough that Cézanne was satisfied with his study at the Louvre and that the light was pale gray. Other conditions were necessary, notably that there had to be silence in the factory of pile-drivers. This "factory" was the noisy elevator next door, to which Cézanne had given this name. I refrained from correcting him and from telling him that when the noise had stopped, it was because the elevator was out of order. I allowed him to hope that the firm would declare bankruptcy one day. The silences, in truth, were frequent, and he believed that the hammering stopped because sales were poor.

    Another noise that he could not stand was that of dogs barking. There was a dog in the neighborhood that made noise sometimes—just a small bark—but for sounds he felt to be disagreeable, Cézanne's hearing became extremely acute. One morning, as I arrived, he came toward me joyously saying, "That Lépine (the Police Chief) is a fine man! He gave the order to arrest all dogs; it's in La Croix." We gained several good sittings from this great news. The sky stayed light gray and, by a fortunate coincidence, both the dog and the factory of pile-drivers were quiet at the same time. But one day, just as Cézanne repeated again, "That Lépine is a great man," we heard a faint "woof, woof, woof!" Immediately he dropped his palette and cried in discouragement, "The bugger, he has escaped!"

    Very few people had seen Cézanne paint. He could barely stand to be watched while he was at his easel. For those who had not seen him paint, it is difficult to imagine how slow and difficult this work was on some days. In my portrait, there are two little places on the hand where the canvas is unpainted. I drew this to his attention, "If this afternoon's session at the Louvre goes well," he answered, "maybe tomorrow I'll find the right tone to cover these white patches. But please understand, Mr. Vollard, if I were to put just any color there at random, I would be forced to take my picture and leave!" And that prospect made me shudder.


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