Cézanne and Time
( XVth International Congress for Aesthetics, 2001 (CD- ROM), Society of Aesthetics International, 2003.)
Cézanne scholars such as L. Venturi, B. Dorival, and others have indicated the problem of time in Cezanne’s works. But research has yet to focus on time in his works, even though his revolutionary expression of space has been fully indicated in the history of modern art. This paper aims to demonstrate the importance of the nature of time in our reading of Cézanne’s paintings. Beginning with the works of É. Souriau and others, this paper explains Cézanne’s importance in the history of the plastic arts of the period, as seen in the interaction of doubled time, when his perceptions of nature are layered with their realization on canvas. Cézanne’s use of doubled time is seen in the plural contours of his drawings, plural points of view, deformations, and other instances. Their time gap is also revealed in his strokes balanced with unfinished spaces. We can define Cézanne’s time as “continuity of discontinuity.” The author also suggests that one traditional Japanese interpretation of Cézanne might provide a clearer understanding of Cézanne’s sense of time than the interpretations by scholars of other nations.
A formalist interpretation: Cézanne and Space
My paper aims to demonstrate the importance of the nature of time in our reading of Cézanne’s paintings.1 Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) is a French painter of the 19th century. He is located as one of the fathers of modern art in the history of art formed in the 20th century. But it seems the way of understanding Cézanne has been focused on the revolutionary character of his artistic expression of space. We have many researches on this point such as by Fritz Novotny, Erle Loran, Lilianne Brion-Guerry and others.2 According to these researches, Cézanne brought traditional scientific perspective from the Italian Renaissance to a close to exploit new possibilities of pictorial space.
As an art historian, G. H. Hamilton has criticized in 1956,3 there is an ideology behind this kind of positioning of Cézanne in the history of plastic art. In brief, there is a point of view that considers Cézanne as a starting point of Cubism, Abstract art and American art after the second world war. It is clear that Hamilton criticized such American formalist critics as Erle Loran and Clement Greenberg without mentioning their names. Hamilton proposed, against them, a way of reading Cézanne through his artistic expression of time. Today when Anglo-Saxon formalism seems to come to a close, I think we have arrived at a time when we should reconsider with Hamilton that his expression of time is an important issue for reading Cézanne’s paintings.
By the way, the expression of time in the plastic art is very difficult to explain because first of all, it is invisible, contrary to the examples of iconographic motif. So we do not have so many examples of researches but we have good preceding studies by Etienne Souriau in France4 and Atsushi Tanigawa in Japan.5 However, curiously both did not talk about Cézanne.
Therefore, I would like to clarify here Cézanne’s time, referring to both, but like Hamilton, to position it in the speculative circumstances around and after Cézanne.
Firstly, I would like to specify Cézanne’s time from various points of view, analyzing some of his works and showing their slides. Secondly, to clear some relationships between his paintings and his words and critics of his time and around.
In his La Pendule Noire (V.69,R.136,1867-69)(slide)of his early years, no hand of clock is painted. This painting symbolizes that many of Cézanne’s paintings have discarded nature of time. It is certain that some of his early works, having some subjects, such as the Le Jugement de Paris (V.166,R.457,c.1880)(slide), L’enlèvement (V.101,R.121,1867)(slide), Le Meurtre (V.121,R.165,c.1870)(slide) and others, communicate certain messages through the actions of the persons represented in them. Several paintings in the Impressionist period like La Maison du Pendu (V.133,R.202,c.1873)(slide) express the moving things like light and atmosphere, transmitting the change of nature in time, while forming the solidity of forms and composition, which Cézanne would exploit later. If I use Souriau’s words, they show “the choice of a prerogative moment” (Souriau,p299), which connotes the continuation of time from the past to the future around this present. Furthermore, the Crâne et Chandelier (V.61,R.83,1864-65)(slide) of his early period and the Jeune homme à la tête de mort (V.679,R.825,1896-98)(Slide) of his late period, demonstrate symbolic time as contemplation on his death. And in some of the bathers in his late period, bathers show their activities through their gestures, they show a message of theme of bathing and transmit the development of time to the viewer. Among his landscapes, a dramatic moment of nature in the changing is captured in the Le Grand Pin (v.669,R.601,1887-89)(slide) where a pine tree dynamically nodding in the wind is represented.
In all of these paintings, the nature of time is one that the represented figures imply through their gestures, compositions and touches, or symbolic one attached to these figures. Cézanne introduces nature of time in Souriau’s and his disciple, Lamblin’s meanings.6 I would like to call this kind of time as “iconographic time”.
However, in his many bathers, there are no language of gestures, gazes or looks and various messages inherent to the traditional theme of bathers such as pleasure, relaxation and animation and others have been taken away. This point would be very clear when we compare Cézanne’s Cardplayers (V.558, R.714)(slide)with the same subject by the brothers Le Nain, Les joueurs de cartes (slide), which Cézanne saw in his young days in the museum Granet at Aix-en-Provence.7 Gestures and looks of Cézanne’s persons are frozen as if they are petrified, playful mood is lost, and there is no suggestion of time. If we are forced to tell about the nature of time with these works, we can say it is permanence, pérenité, or eternity in English, which the French art historian, Bernard Dorival insisted regarding Cézanne’s mature period’s works.8 Most of his landscapes after his mature period have no moving, changing motifs like cloud, smoke, wave, air, reflextion of light, elements suggesting the succession of time. In his portraits, personalities and looks of his models, their life history and others are not indicated, they are represented so that they look like puppets or still lifes. Like this, many of Cézanne’s paintings have nothing of time, in the point that they have no iconographic time.
Cézanne’s Time: Continuity of Discontinuity
On the other hand, it seems that Cézanne’s work is fundamentally based on another nature of time, which Souriau, Lamblin and Tanigawa mentioned without focusing on it. That is to say, it is “time of contemplation” (Souriau,p.301), or strictly saying, time of Cézanne’s making, which is related closely to his perception, which we, the viewers, can perceive in time of contemplation. They did not indicate this point. Let us repeat Souriau’s examples. When we contemplate architecture and garden, we can not see them at a stroke, they will appear as continuous successive aspects according to the movement of our gaze and standing point. It is the same thing when we contemplate the painting. Even if the viewer fixes his position before the painting, he will move his gaze from figure to figure that are represented, and will read its composition and space, so that he will interpret what each means and as a whole, although interpretations are varied according to the interpreter.
This kind of time of contemplation is necessary to experience iconographic time. In fact, in some of Cézanne’s paintings, time of contemplation leads the viewers to the interpretation of iconographic time, but most others lead to the reading of marks of Cézanne’s successive perception and his making. This is an original point in Cézanne’s paintings.
Taking the Nature morte à la commode (V.497,R.634,1887-88)(slide) as an example, a mouth of green jar in the left side is treated as a rectangle and flat plane as it is looked down from the upper side, while its body is seen from the front, so here we can find a succession of time, a trace of Cézanne’s eye having seen this pot firstly from the front and secondly from the upper position or in the reverse order. Furthermore, a white cloth is set obliquely across the table, therefore, there is not one but double lines of the table at the center of the pictorial frame which are discontinuous. It would not be necessary to refer to the psychology of perception to demonstrate these phenomena. When we put an object obliquely on the table to see it, we will perceive it as two lines discontinuous on both sides. In the world of geometry, it should be a single line, but in the real perception, it is double, because our perception, if shut down momentarily by another object, will become discontinuous. It would be clear through this example that as contrasted with George Seurat, who exploited his construction strictly based on geometrical orders,9 Cézanne based his making on his personal perception and keeping its traces.
The Nature morte avec l’amour en plâtre (v.706,R.786,c.1895)(slide) is another example. Even if the gaze of the viewer catches, at first, the cupid plaster at the center, it will move up or down from the table to the apple in the lower side, the painted Michelangelo’s sculpture at the upper side, or his painting in his painting.10 In this way, the viewer will find that this painting is made in the process of integration of several aspects of his perceptions. In the history of interpretation of Cézanne, many early formalist analyses have pointed out these famous phenomena as the revolution of pictorial space with his plural points of views, his movement of points of view to emphasize the origin of Cubism which destroyed the scientific perspective to give way to the new space on the pictorial surface. But as contrasted with Cubists’ or Futurists’ experiments, Cézanne’s technique was always deduced from his perception of real object in three dimensions and we would like to insist that it is much rather correct to tell that these kinds of phenomena should be explained as spatial developement of time of his perception and his making.
We can find this kind of time of perception with making in his lines in his drawings and his touches in his paintings. These will show his complicated nature of double time more clearly. In his traditional drawings in his early years, the so called “académie,” he decided his contour with a single line, which erased both his traces of perception and making.Male Nude (C.78,1862)(slide) At the same time, he also began to do his original way of drawing, which was made of plural lines, repeated discontinuously on the pictorial surface. After Michelangelo: The Resurrection (C.172,1867) (slide) There are many gaps between lines, and these gaps make the viewers perceive temporal gaps between his perceptions (perceiving the objects) and his making(materializing of lines perceived, changing according to the figure he intends to draw), his next perception and his next making. These drawings of his early period show the process as the following; his perception of the object at the moment decides a line that should be drawn on the surface, and the vision Cézanne intends to realize on the surface according to this line, which in its turn, induces his next new perception to draw new lines.
We can consider his composition by characteristic touches and bigger ones, plans (in French, tache), which he began clearly around the 1880s, as the development of his early way of grasping the object. Le Pont de Maincy (V.396;N.R.436,1879-1880)(slide) It is his own way of forming by giving a concrete form to colors and directions of each touch. Furthermore, it is also based on the nature of time of his perception and his making, which continues discontinuously.
This would be clear further in Cézanne’s words, which I will cite;
“This-and I am categorical on this point-cannot be contested: an optical sensation occurs in our visual organ which allows us to classify-by light, halftone or quarter tone-the areas represented by the sensations of color.” (to Emile Bernard, 23 Decemeber, 1904)11
What Cézanne speaks here is that his perceived sensations are closely related with his sensations leading to the process of making, and this relationship is realized through the division of tones. In other words, he talks about his way of expressing the object before his eye as a group of some color elements.
We can confirm this point through the report by Rivière and Schnerb’s visit to Cézanne in 1905. This report is considered as one of the most reliable by many Cézanne’s researchers.
“”I want to render the cylindrical essence of objects.” One of his favorite sayings, which rang with unforgettable music in his Provençal accent, was “Everything is spherical and cylindrical.” This statement demands an explanation. In pronouncing this theory, Cézanne pointed to an apple or perfectly spherical or cylindrical object as well as to a flat surface like a wall or the floor. To relate this principle to his paintings, one can verify that one of the causes of their solid appearance comes from the science that he applies to the modeling of his flat surfaces, whether a meadow or a table with some fruit placed on it. To complete the examination of this theory, one must add that, with regard to the supposedly immobile eye of the painter, light rays coming from a given surface, flat or otherwise, are such that the amount of light the eye receives from one area is not the same for any of the other areas of this surface. A surface only appears unified in tone and value because our eye moves over it in order to grasp it completely. If a painter were to render that surface with a monochrome layer of paint on the canvas, he would reproduce it inaccurately”.12
On the other hand, the orientations and the colors of touches and taches are directed by another orientation, which Cézanne called, “sensation colorante.” Cézanne told his son in his letter of 14 August, 1906 that “the whole thing is to put in as much consonance as possible.”13 This sensation colorante, coloring sensation directs both those disposed on the canvas and the coming ones. In other words, it is a kind of power of his conception, the basis of his making. From this point of view, we can say that his bathers and others composed, for which he had no models, are made only from his sensation colorante and it is the application of his techniques coming from his experience of perception.
To return to the main issue, whether through his composition, his construction of space, deformation of shapes or his construction with touches, Cézanne’s paintings are based on time of his succesive perception closely related with his making, leading to the integration or the harmony on the surface. The development of this kind of double time would not be reduced to the following schema; in brief, after the former finishes, then the latter starts. On the contrary, this double time develops, interactively leading each other to each new next step, it is in the mechanism of interrelationship mutually producing each other’s future. Cézanne himself and Vollard tell that he spent much time for his making.14 This is a very famous story. But could not we explain this nature of delay as the result of his double time coming from his two kinds of sensations working alternately and interactively with each other?
In Cézanne’s history of development of paintings, the following fact is very well known; after the plural lines in his early drawings, his touches which he began from his middle period, his deformed forms and spaces, beginning from his middle period and becoming more marked in his late works, Cézanne reached his original making exclusively with the juxtaposition of touches and taches, without expressing the forms or volumes. La Route tournante en sous-bois (V.789,R.889,1902-06)(slide) As I have explained, it is none other than the result of pursuing his original mechanism on his canvas as his work itself. Furthermore, especially in his last watercolors Étude de feuillage (R.551,1900-04)(slide), he often left the subjectile (surface of paper) blank, and this also can be explained by his double time, interactive and succeeding simultaneously. Blank of paper is like the silence at the beginning and the close of the musical performance. It is between those of Cézanne’s time of perception and of making, surfaces of paper as gaps between colors are like gaps between sounds, an actualization of his double time between perceptions and makings on the pictorial surface, in other words, “continuity of discontinuity.”
Cézanne and Bergson
Here I would like to point out with G. H. Hamilton Cézanne’s parallelism with the thought by Henri Bergson (1859-1941), who lived during the same period. As far as I searched, we have neither evidence that Cézanne read Bergson’s works such as Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience in 1889, which was translated into English by Pogson in 1910 as Time and Free Will, nor evidence that Bergson looked Cézannes’ works, for instance, at his first personal exhibition organized by Vollard in 1895 or his retrospective exhibition at the Salon d’Automne in 1907 or others after his death. Like Hamilton, I do not intend to discuss the relationship of mutual influence but their parallelism.
Hamilton, in his essay in 1956, compared Cézanne’s time with Impressionists’ time. He indicated the latter’s is a simple succession of many present moments in the traditional three-dimensional space, but in his many paintings in the 1880’s after his mature period, Cézanne realized the duration, a key concept of time by Bergson, which is, on the contrary, the succession of the present containing both the past and the future. As is very well known, Eugène Minkowski, in his Le Temps Vécu, Études phénoménologiques et psychopathologiques, published in 1933, criticized Bergson’s idea which considered space as calculated quantitiy, or fixed notions, on the contrary, considering time as quality, or les données immédiates moving and he developed Bergson’s duration into the idea of living, becoming both in time and in space.15 Without knowing Minkowski’s work, Hamilton showed his interpretation of Bergson, pointing out through Bergson’s idea of duration, the spatial development in time of Cézanne’s perception and making in his paintings. In this point, Hamilton did an interpretative creation of Bergson’s idea around Cézanne’s time, with which I would like to agree. But I think Hamilton’s understanding of Bergson’s idea of duration was not enough. I think I would be able to add more to Hamilton’s discussion on Cézanne’s parallelism with Bergson.
Bergson’s duration has a double sense; Duration is on one hand the succession, heterogeneous, successive change of consciousness, and on the other hand, it is the continuity behind this changing.16 I would like to take Bergson’s interesting example about the sensation of sound to demonstrate his idea of duration in his Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, where he indicated the essence of duration, in brief, as the “continuity of discontinuity”;
“As the effort by which your voice passes from one note to another is discontinuous, you picture to yourself these successive notes as points in space, to be reached by a series of sudden jumps, in each of which you cross an empty separating interval: this is why you establish intervals between the notes of the scale.”17
The intervals making the discontinuity among the continuity, pointed out by Bergson, is not soundless silence but itself sound without sound, living one. Furthermore, in the following phrase on our psychic life in his L’évolution Créatrice published in 1907, one year after Cézanne’s death, (Creative Evolution, in 1912), the intervals are the voiceless, unseen background, which suppport the successive phenomena;
“True, our psychic life is full of the unforeseen. A thousand incidents arise, which seem to be cut off from those which precede them, and to be disconnected from those which follow. Discontinuous though they appear, however, in point of fact they stand out against the continuity of a background on which they are designed, and to which indeed they owe the intervals that separate them.”18
Through this Bergson’s idea, we could explain the unfinished parts in Cézanne’s paintings. In two texts I have written several years ago, I demonstrated that Cézanne’s unfinished canvas or paper functioned as living colors, related with other colors on the same surface.19 Furthermore, we could say that the unfinished parts function as the Bergsonian intervals, in brief, constructive, unseen power behind the seen touches, colors, and forms.
When Bergson talked about the duration, he exclusively tried to explain the states of human conscience, and he did not refer much to the dynamic relationship between the subject (conscience)and its object. On the other hand, Cézanne’s intervals should be considered as the gaps producing the future, intervening both the succession of his perception and his making, making them successive discontinuously, intervening his perception invocating his making, his making leading his perception. In this sense, Bergson’s time paralleled only in part with Cézanne’s.
Cézanne and Japan: Personalist Interpretation
As far as I know, in the history of interpretation of Cézanne’s art, we had no critics, no research papers based on Bergsonian thought in his days or after his death. As formalist critics focusing on the problem of pictorial space have been formed in England, France and the United States, the problem of time has not been indicated for a long time until Hamilton’s essay in 1956. But I would like to mention one exception referring to the problem of time in Cézanne. It is the personalist interpretation formed in Japan from the 1910’s to the beginning of the 20’s. Because I wrote about it in some of my texts20, I would like to summarize it here. Ikuma Arishima, a Western -style painter and critic, introduced Cézanne in earnest in a journal for literature and fine arts in 1910, some years after Cézanne’s death. After his essay, many articles on Cézanne were written, and many Western essays on Cézanne were translated into Japanese, whose processes have been researched by myself and others.21 Among them, an interpretation I called personalist interpretation was getting to be established as one proper to Japanese culture. This interpretation sees in Cézanne’s paintings neither the formal properties nor Cézanne’s character as a human being nor his life style but induces behind his formalistic properties the characteristics of his life in the process of making through the viewers’ intuition. I willl cite the phrases of Kôtarô Takamura, one of the representatives of personalist interpretation. Analyzing Cézanne’s La Pendule Noire in his Idea and art of Impressionism in 1915, Takamura described it as follows;
“When he began to paint with the outdoor light, (…), he began to base his paintings on some things like contacts between objects, contrasts and similarities of colors, superposition and continuity of touches. It is just like transfer of sounds moving from one sound to another, rubbing, stepping and flowing in a music. He called it modulation. It is not a simple relationship of color values. Color excitement [this is the Takamura’s translation of Cézanne’s words], sensation colorante, coming from this contact, this contrast, and it is a key in his paintings.”22
As another example, I will introduce the aesthetician and art critic Seigo Kinbara’s text, “Picture Form” in a fine art journal titled Country of Beauty in 1927. He called Japanese traditional way of painting as koppo (boned method, the composition with lines) and he found this method in Cézanne’s paintings. Kinbara defined koppo as the following;
“It is koppo that runs permanently through the picture. This flowing exists in every art. In music, before a sound went out and the next has not yet appeared, when the sound going out is left and the coming sound begins to show its appearance, we can find there is a flowing, which is the duration running from a sound to another one. It is this duration that expresses the intention of a music very well. It is this flowing, this inclination that is koppo. This is the same thing in Japanese calligraphy. The intervals, where a character ends and soon another character begins, do not express any visible forms but express the intentions of the writer.”23
Here is a Bergsonian idea of time. We have no evidence that both Takamura and Kinbara knew Bergson’s works. I do not have any time here to talk about the reception of Bergson’s thought in Japan.
But one convincing thing we can say is that in the first period of reception of Cézanne in Japan there existed the form of interpreting Cézanne through experiencing his nature of time, especially, intervals and unfinished parts as living components of his pictures before European interpretations like Hamilton’s were written in 1956.
What is very interesting is that during the past decade, we got several indications by Western scholars on Cézanne’s time, such as Norman Bryson in 1990, Augustin Berque in 1990, Yve Alain-Bois in 1995 and Richard Shiff in 1995 and 1998.24 For example, Alain-Bois, referring to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological theory on Cézanne, indicated the appearance of Cézanne’s breath in his touches, or Richard Shiff, locating Cézanne’s work in the intellectual context of his period, found Cézanne’s timing in them. I think the appearance of these kinds of interpretations on Cézanne comes from the change of intellectual needs in Europe and the United States after the close of modernist formalism. Especially it is very suggestive that Berque and Bryson base their thoughts, in part, on Japanese thoughts like Kitarô Nishida’s philosophy and others. However, this will be another theme for me to develop in the future.25
1 I rewrote for this paper my article; Takanori Nagai, “Cézanne and Time”, [in Japanese], in Theory and History of Art, Shibunkaku, 1990, pp.385-394, modifying and adding new issues. V. numbers are those of Lionello Venturi, Cézanne, son art, son oeuvre, Paris, 1936, R. numbers (paintings), John Rewald in collaboration with Feilchenfeldt and Jayne Warman, The Painting of Paul Cézanne A Catalogue Raisonné, Vols. 1, 2, New York, 1996, R. numbers (watercolors), John Rewald, traduit de l’anglais par Jacques Chavy, Les Aquarelles de Cézanne, Catalogue Raisonné, Paris, 1984, C.numbers, Adrian Chappuis, The Drawings of Paul Cézanne; A Catalogue Raisonné, Vols. 1, 2, New York, 1973
2 Fritz Novotny, Cézanne und das Ende der wissenschaftlichen Perspektive, Wien, 1938, Erle Loran, Cézanne’s Composition, London, 1943, Lilianne Brion-Guerry, Cézanne et l’expression de l’espace, Paris, 1966.
11 Edited by John Rewald, translated by Seymoure Hacker, Paul Cézanne Letters, New York, 1984, p. 305 (Recuillie, annotée et préfacée par John Rewald, Paul Cézanne Correspondance, Paris, 1978, p. 308)
12 Edited by Michael Doran, translated by Julie Lawrence Cochran, introduction by Richard Shiff, Conversation with Cézanne, Berkeley/Los Angeles/London, 2001, p. 87. This was kindly given to me for this paper by Dr. Richard Shiff, to whom I would like to express my sincere thanks. Edited by Michael Doran, Conversations avec Cézanne, Paris, 1978, p. 88.
17 Henri Bergson, Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, Paris, 1889, pp. 33-34 (Librairie Félix Alcan édition 1921), translated by F. L. Pogson in 1910 as Time and Free Will, p. 45(Harper Torchbooks edition published 1960).
19 Takanori Nagai, Le problème de la marge chez Cézanne, D.E.A. L’Université de Provence, 1984, “Matiérisme/Modernité-Le phénomène de symbiose des techniques du dessin et de la peinture auⅩⅨè siècle, Bigaku, Vol. 45, no. 1, Summer 1994, pp.42-52 [in Japanese], Summary [in French]. See also, Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, Chahut, Paris, 1989, pp. 97-107. I would like to express my sincere thanks to Dr. Lebensztejn, who has kindly given me this work in 1989.
20 Takanori Nagai, “An aspect of Cézanne’s Reception in Japan-The Formation and Development of the Personalist Interpretation of Cézanne in the 1920’s,” Aesthetics, March 1998 No.8, pp. 79-91, “Early 1920s Japan and French Cézannism: From Perceptualism to Formalism/From Perceptualism to Personalism,” No.13, separate volume Kajima Bijutsu Kenkyû (for the year 1995), November, 1996, pp. 173-187, [in Japanese]
24 Norman Bryson, Looking at the overlooked-Four Essays on Still Life Painting, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 82, Augustin Berque, translated by Shinoda Katsuhide into Japanese as Nippon no Fûkei, Seiyô no keikan soshite zôkei no jidai, Kôdansha, 1990, Yve-Alain Bois, “L’écart: théorie et pratique cézanniennes,” Communication d’acte de colloque Cézanne au Musée d’Orsay, 1995, in Cézanne aujourd’hui, 1997, Paris, pp. 87-94, Richard Shiff, “La touche de Cézanne: entre vision impressionniste et vision symboliste,” Communication d’acte de colloque Cézanne au Musée d’Orsay, 1995, in ibid., 1997, Paris, pp. 117-124, “Sensation, movement, Cézanne,” in Classic Cézanne (Exhibition Catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales), Sydney, 1998, pp.13-27.