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Modern and contemporary art

Video transcript

[Music] Paul Cezanne is probably best known for two things still lives with apples and his landscapes of a mountain in the South of France and Provence known as mount sainte-victoire and we're looking at a painting of mount sainte-victoire here in the Philadelphia Museum of Art that dates to 1902 too for it's interesting to think about Suzanne painting this mountain over and over again but also painting each painting of the mountain over an extended period of time normally we think about Impressionism as paintings that are done on site rather rapidly but this is decidedly different Paul Cezanne is often grouped with Gauguin and Van Gogh and Syrah and called a post impressionist but he began his career exhibiting with the Impressionists in Paris he moved back to the area that he grew up in in the South of France later in his life and this painting was made in the last few years of his life he would die just two years after it was completed it's funny to talk about this painting being completed because it feels unfinished there are places where we see the canvas underneath our buildings that seem to be taking shape there are trees that seem to be half formed even the mountain itself seems to be almost in the process of forming we can clearly read a mountain of sky clouds trees farmland and buildings but at the same time if we look too closely they all fall apart and they are all formed of the series of hash marks that create a sense of optical movement and change but think about historically what it means for an artist to do this with landscape from the 17th century forward painters like Poussin or claude had been deeply concerned with creating space that was believable and Cezanne seems to be here directly attacking that tradition he's creating what has been referred to as a curtain of paint the paint is so present throughout the surface of the canvas in the sky in the foreground that all of it rises up to the surface all of it announces its two dimensionality that it is on a vertical plane the whole tradition of landscape painting and even the academic tradition in France of painting generally is about high finish not seeing the brushstrokes which are so emphatically present here but to me I'm not sure that he's attacking that tradition so much as being true to his own personal vision as he stood in front of this landscape here he is the end of the 19th century the early years of the 20th century Impressionism has happened this idea of depicting your own sensations or subjective optical experience in front of the landscape and I think that's a big part of this for him there is an intimacy a vision of a man that has spent a lifetime looking at this mountain from these vantage points and is understanding his own visual experience and inventing a visual language to portray that experience Suzanne will be really important for a cubism if we think about a painting like brock's viaduct at least stock you can see how rock is thinking about the forms in terms of geometric shapes and we have some sense of that here but we're Braque and Picasso will really fully open up form what we have here is tis on just beginning to investigate what it means to break contour look for example at the houses in the foreground we can see the way in which the color of the field enters into the area that should be just the red of the roof it's just a subtle opening up of form ever so slightly whereas Braque and Picasso will dismantle form almost completely so from the hindsight of the 20th century we see this as an affirmation of the flatness of the canvas a denying of the illusionism that was such an important part of western painting beginning in the Renaissance we shouldn't say complete denial because we can still see the mountain in the background we can still see the foreground of the hills before and we can still see the brush immediately below our feet as we look from an adjacent hilltop nevertheless all those little cues that had built up in landscape painting in the centuries before have been left out normally we would expect to see atmospheric perspective we would expect to see the sky and mountains in the distance fading and becoming less bright in color less clear in their focus but in that way saison is treating every part of this canvas in the same way instead of using atmospheric perspective to create a sense of form that artist is simply delineating distance by choice of color we have these blue Browns in the foreground we have reds and greens in the middle ground and we have blues in the most distant area but it is a kind of arbitrary Association of place with color and Cezanne is able to create an even greater degree of ambiguity by bringing color from one realm into the other look for instance of the way that Cezanne takes that gray purple from the immediate foreground and builds that into the sky so that when we see those colors in relationship to each other that sky comes forward so what we have here is an investigation of landscapes is very different than what the Impressionists were doing this is not about capturing the transitory effects of light into atmosphere this seems to be about something more permanent and what stays on is after it seems to me is a tension between the deep recession that we expect and the radical confrontation with the two dimensionality of the surface [Music]
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