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Current time:0:00Total duration:2:44

Paul Cézanne's approach to watercolor

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Watercolor, it's a fascinating medium, in that the color and the working of it make it look absolutely spontaneous, and, in fact, the difficulty of it is extraordinary. ("Comptine d'un autre été, l'après-midi" by Yann Tiersen) - [Voiceover] The great American painter, John Singer Sargent, described watercolor as an act of making the best of an impending disaster. The fluid pigment can never be completely controlled. An undesired color or mark cannot be removed. New layers of color transform those already on the surface, and the brilliance of the white paper must also be considered. - [Voiceover] A certain point, it's too much. At a certain point, you have ruined it, and the decision to stop is a critical aspect of this. - [Voiceover] A watercolor can never hide how it was made. Let's look through the layers and trace Cezanne's unique working process. Traditionally, an artist filled in a pencil sketch with color wash. But in Cezanne's watercolors, pencil lines actually go over the paint. Pencil is an active part of the overall composition. The white paper beneath also plays a critical role. Notice how the tablecloth, napkin and pitcher are almost entirely defined by the white paper. This white center holds together the ambitious composition, and imparts light across the surface. The least-painted surface creates the most powerful visual presence. Watercolorists tend to apply colors in quick succession, allowing them to pool and mix, but Cezanne allowed each color to dry before adding other colors. The tapestry shows off this time-consuming technique. Colors hover kaleidoscopically over and under each other. Cezanne's approach took its toll on the artist. In 1904, Cezanne wrote, "I progress very slowly, "for nature reveals herself to me in very complex ways." ("Comptine d'un autre été, l'après-midi" by Yann Tiersen)