Origins of Modernism and Cubism

posted in: Painting | 0

      At the close of the 19th century Cezanne wanders about his neighborhood in Aix-En-Provence and occasionally as far as the coast at l’Estaque.  He is trying out new ideas. First, he wants to take the formal compositions of art history, especially Poussin’s compositions from the 17th century( see first painting example) with their  side-framing trees and  their internal rhyming shapes.  Look at the perimeter shapes of the trees, now look at the clouds.  Now look at John reclining as he writes “Revelations” and then, at the similarly inclined slopes behind him and finally, at the similarly inclined foliage cluster behind the slopes.  Look at the pedestal and its distant echo in the white columned classical structure.  Look at Poussin’s reference to classical geometric forms, cylinders, cubes, and obelisk.  There is a curiously artificial order on this island of Patmos.  Cezanne was intrigued by these internal cross-referencing forms and their continuous patterns.  John Ruskin would call this a perfect example of the principle of repetition or “flawed echo”.  Poussin’s light was not a natural light.  The painting looks too artificial, like a stage set in a photographer’s studio.  Cezanne wanted to create with Poussin’s idea of aesthetic order but, in the contex of a natural setting with natural light and following the  sensations of biological vision.   According to neuro-science our vision is a selective vision.   We are attracted to areas of contrast, to edges because, visual information lies along the edges and the intersections with other edges. Cezanne observed the flanks  of buildings; how one side caught the light and the other caught the shadow. Together they suggested a form in space.  The cluttering of differently  angled roofs and walls with their respective lights and darks not only make a  lively jumble but also,  suggest the experience of looking at a Provencal hillside village.  Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso noticed Cezanne’s work and ,they noticed what Cezanne had noticed.  They too had studied linear perspective just as  he and the earlier Poussin had done.  Cezanne had observed how a stroke of light paint could suggest both a wall or just paint making a pattern on a flat canvas.  Braque and Picasso thought let’s make the reference to the flat surface more overt.  We will stack up the same jumble of buildings ( see Braque’s earlier and later painting examples also painted at L’Estaque) and using the principles of vision and linear perspective we let the viewer start to see a building that has depth but, as soon as the viewer begins to follow the building into the picture space we will thwart their experience and flatten the form with a contradictory form.  The result: the viewer will start to enter illusory space and then whoops, they are back looking at a flat plane which is all a canvas really is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *