Raphael’s Influence on Titian, 1508-1520


As part of the celebrations for Raphael’s birthday and in memory of Hasan Niyazi, it gives me great pleasure to host this guest post by Dr. Kiril Penušliski.  A Macedonian art historian who used to have tempestuous hair, Kiril Penušliski is an expert on Italian Renaissance art. Despite having received his PhD degree in Jedi Sciences (read Art History), he can still on most nights be found playing chess online. His most lofty goal and ambition in life is to someday learn how to avoid making mouse slips.


Raphael’s Influence on Titian, 1508-1520

Raphael, together with Leonardo, Michelangelo and Titian, was one of the major artists of the Italian Renaissance. Although he passed away when he was only 37, he was a highly influential figure and his works have become synonymous with the High Renaissance style. He was Titian’s senior by only a few years, but he exerted considerable influence on his younger colleague.[i] Due to restrictions of space, here we will be looking only at Raphael’s influence on the early part of Titian’s career. This is a relatively short period from 1508, when Titian became an independent painter, to around 1520, when he completed his first masterpieces. Coincidentally, this period is also important in Raphael’s chronology; it begins with his move from Florence to Rome and ends with his death.

Even though the two probably never met,[ii] Titian was very much aware of Raphael’s achievements. One of the first major pieces by Raphael to reach Venice was the cartoon – now lost – for the tapestry depicting the Conversion of Saul (image 1). It was in Cardinal Domenico Grimani’s collection in Venice in 1521 and Titian must have known it directly. From the cartoon he borrowed the pose of Saul for his St Peter in The Death of St Peter Martyr. The painting was commissioned around 1526, but destroyed by fire in 1867. Luckily there were a number of copies and engravings made after the Titian picture (image 2).[iii] However, this was an isolated case. In general terms there were very few works by Raphael in Venice, but knowledge of new ideas, of innovations in iconography and style moved very rapidly throughout Italy. The primary avenues for this were drawings and prints.

1. Workshop of Peter van Aelst [after a design by Raphael], Conversion of St Paul, tapestry, 464 x 533 cm, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome.
2. Johann Carl Loth [after Titian], Death of St Peter Martyr, oil on canvas, 500 x 306 cm, Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice.

Drawings seem to have played an important part in the creation of one of the first works by Titian where we can clearly see Raphael’s influence. This is Titian’s much damaged, early painting Circumcision at the Yale University Gallery in New Haven (probably 1509; image 3). The theme of the panel and its composition were well known in Venetian art at the time (there are a number of examples by Mantegna and especially by Giovanni Bellini and his followers), but the pose of the Child has no precedent in the Venetian context.

3. Titian, Circumcision, oil on panel, 36,8 x 79,4 cm, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.

4. Michelangelo, The Virgin and Child with the Infant St John (Taddei Tondo), marble, 109 cm in diameter, Royal Academy, London.
5. Raphael, The Bridgewater Madonna, oil on canvas transferred from panel, 81 x 55 cm, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

The inventor of the pose appears to have been Michelangelo, but it was to Raphael that Titian was looking when he painted the Circumcision. The evolution of the pose can be followed from Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo (c. 1504-1505, Royal Academy, London; image 4),[iv] through a number of Raphael’s Madonna pictures, to its final stage in the Bridgewater Madonna in (c. 1507, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh; image 5). Raphael slowly modified the Michelangelo motif until he created the double torsion of the Child’s body present in the Edinburgh painting. For intermediate stages of the design see the Terranuova Madonna at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin and the Conestabile Madonna from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg (images 6-7).

6. Raphael, Terranuova Madonna, oil on wood, 87 cm in diameter, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
7. Raphael, Conestabile Madonna, oil on canvas transferred from wood, 17,5 x 18 cm, Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

It is highly unlikely that Titian saw any of these pictures. As the first known print of the Bridgewater Madonna dates from the early 18th century (image 8),[v] his knowledge of the pose must have come through any of a number of drawings/studies that Raphael executed during his final years in Florence; such as Virgin and Child with Saint Joseph and a Female Saint (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; image 9), Madonna and Child Compositions and Study of a Twisting Child (both British Museum, London; images 10-11).

8. Nicolas de Larmessin [after Raphael], Madonna and Child, engraving.

9. Raphael, Virgin and Child with Saint Joseph and a Female Saint, red chalk, 15,9 x 12,9 cm, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
10. Raphael, Madonna and Child Compositions, pen and ink over chalk, 25,3 x 18,3, British Museum, London.
11. Raphael, Study of a Twisting Child, silverpoint, 16,8 x 11,9 cm, British Museum, London.

The pose of the Child in the Circumcision picture illustrates a straightforward iconographical borrowing. This is a direct transference of a motif from the work of one painter to another. But this was not the only type of influence exerted by Raphael on young Titian, as witnessed by the Lochis Madonna and Noli me Tangere.

In the Lochis Madonna (probably 1510; Accademia Carrara, Bergamo; image 12) the movement of the lively, restless child must have been inspired by Central Italian examples; it is simultaneously flapping its legs while raising his arms to play with the Virgin’s hair. Although the picture cannot be directly tied to a Raphael invention, there are enough similarities between the painting and some of Raphael’s works that a general assessment is possible: it was painted ‘in the manner of Raphael’, the greatest inventor of Virgin and Child compositions in the first decade of the sixteenth century.[vi]

12. Titian, Lochis Madonna, oil on canvas, 38 x 48 cm, Accademia Carrara, Bergamo.

The pose of Christ in Titian’s Noli me Tangere (c. 1513, National Gallery, London; image 13), with its spiral twisting motion, was borrowed (in reverse) from the San Giovanni Crisostomo Altarpiece by Sebastiano del Piombo. But when compared to the soldier in Titian’s Rustic Idyll from a few years earlier (probably 1509, Fogg Museum of Art, Cambridge; image 14), it shows a newfound understanding of the dynamic potential of the nude. This novel development in Titian’s art can be linked to his study of Raphael’s examples where the latter was exploring the male figure,[vii] as for instance in the drawing of Three Standing Nude Men from the British Museum (image 15).

13. Titian, Noli me Tangere, oil on canvas, 110,5 x 91,9 cm, National Gallery, London.
14. Titian, Rustic Idyll, oil on panel, 46 x 44 cm, Fogg Museum of Art, Cambridge.
15. Raphael, Three Standing Nude Men, pen and ink over traces over black chalk, 24,3 x 14,8 cm, British Museum, London.

These two examples show that Raphael’s works had a profound impact on Titian. His influence went beyond the occasional iconographic borrowing, as the Venetian, after studying Raphael’s art, was able to execute works based on Central Italian compositional structures and syntax.

Aside from drawings, printed media helped to keep Titian informed about Raphael’s accomplishments. In this aspect Marcantonio Raimondi was to play a vital role. Born near Bologna and first apprenticed to Francia, he worked principally in Rome. Possibly from around 1510, and certainly from 1511, his engravings of Raphael’s major pieces disseminated the knowledge and the achievements of the master’s work not only throughout Italy, but throughout Europe. Although most of his prints were copies after Raphael’s paintings, it needs to be mentioned that Raphael also created designs which were never meant to be turned into paintings (see text below).

Perhaps an early example of Titian gaining knowledge of Raphael’s work via the medium of prints can be found in the Bache Madonna (probably 1512, Metropolitan Museum, New York; image 16). The very composition of the painting, the pose of the Madonna, the placement of her left hand and the way her profile is silhouetted against the dark background, are all reminiscent of Raphael’s Orleans Madonna (around 1506, Musée Condé, Chantilly; image 17). However, Titian’s composition is in reverse. This most likely indicates that a print was involved.

16. Titian, Bache Madonna, oil on canvas, 46 x 56 cm, Metropolitan Museum, New York.
17. Raphael, Orleans Madonna, oil on panel, 32 x 22 cm, Musée Condé, Chantilly.

Likewise, Titian’s Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine, Dominic and a Donor shows intimate knowledge of Raphael’s Madonna del Pesce (both pieces are datable to around 1513-1514; images 18-19). In the Titian we see the same motion of the Virgin’s leading arm, and the same arrangement of the figures as in the Raphael picture. Here Marco Dente da Ravenna’s engraving after the Raphael, executed soon after the painting was completed, was of great importance (image 20). Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that the Madonna and Child figure group was later also copied by an unknown Venetian artisan in a woodcut made in Venice in 1517.[viii]

18 19 2018. Titian, Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine, Dominic and a Donor, oil on canvas, 138 x 185 cm, Fondazione Magnani Rocca, Mamiano, Parma.
19. Raphael and assistants, The Madonna del Pesce, oil on panel transferred to canvas, 215 x 158 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
20. Marco Dente da Ravenna [after Raphael], Madonna of the Fish, engraving, 262 x 216 mm, The British Museum, London.

Another Titian piece that owes much to Raphael’s achievements is the majestic Assumption of the Virgin at the Frari in Venice; Titian’s first real masterpiece (executed 1516-1518; image 21). The forms of the gathered apostles and their heroic proportions resemble those by Raphael found in the Vatican Stanze, while the radiance against which the Virgin is placed can be seen in Raphael’s painting commissioned by Sigismondo de Conti for his Chapel in Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome (this is the Madonna di Foligno at the Pinacoteca Vaticana in Rome, a painting which held considerable interest for Titian, see text below, 1511-1512; image 22). Additionally, Joannides has pointed out that the dynamism of Titian’s composition could also stem from Raphael’s design for his Resurrection of Christ, intended for the chapel of Agostino Chigi in Santa Maria della Pace in Rome.[ix] The Assumption scene in the Titian painting could very easily transpose into a Resurrection, with Christ in place of the Virgin and dumbfounded guards in place of the apostles. As Raphael’s Resurrection project did not progress very far, very few studies for it exist today. The best exemplar that illustrates this point is Study for the Resurrection of Christ at the Musée Bonnat in Bayonne (image 23).

21 22

21. Titian, Assumption of the Virgin oil on panel, 690 x 360 cm, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.
22. Raphael, Madonna of Foligno, oil on panel, 320 x 194 cm, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome.

23. Raphael, Study for the Resurrection of Christ, pen and ink with touches of red chalk, 40,6 x 27,5 cm, Musée Bonnat, Bayonne.

Titian used one more figure from Raphael’s preparatory studies for the Resurrection in his work. This is the figure of a soldier holding a standard or a lance/spear in the lower centre of Study for the Resurrection now at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (image 24). However, as the soldier does not appear in any other study for the Resurrection, it seems to have been further developed independently of the preparation for that painting.[x] It most probably reached Titian by way of Marcantonio Raimondi’s etching of a Standard Bearer (image 25). Titian used it in his woodcut The Triumph of Christ for the figures of both St Christopher and the Good Thief (1517; image 26).[xi]

24. Raphael, Study for the Resurrection, pen over stylus and traces of black chalk, 345 x 262 mm, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
25. Marcantonio Raimondi, Standard Bearer, engraving, 25,4 x 18,1 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.
26. Titian and an Anonymous Cutter, The Triumph of Christ, detail showing St Christopher, woodcut in ten blocks, 385 x 2680 mm, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

A final example of Raphael’s influence on early Titian can be found in Madonna in Glory with Child and Saints Francis and Blaise and Donor (commonly referred to as the Gozze Altarpiece, c. 1520; image 27).[xii]

27 Tiziano,_pala_gozzi_01

27. Titian,Gozze Altarpiece, oil on panel, 320 x 206 cm, Pinacoteca Civica F. Podesti, Ancona.

28. Marcantonio Raimondi[after Raphael], Madonna and Child, engraving, 157 x 230 mm, Musei Civici di Pavia, Pavia.
29. Marcantonio Raimondi [after Raphael], Madonna and Child, engraving, 16,5 x 12,4 cm, Achenbach Foundation, San Francisco.

The painting is one of three major altarpiece commissions that Titian executed around 1520. Unlike the Assunta in Venice or the Treviso altarpiece (the Malchiostro Annunciation), the prevailing feature in the Ancona painting is the way the composition was created; by masterful manipulation of light, rather than by the presence of voluminous forms and the substances of space. The undulating clouds and the light patches within the luminous sky display Titian’s explorations into the medium of visual sensibility and the effects that could be achieved by the use of coloured light. Although the picture displays a predominantly Venetian idea and feeling for light and colour, the central group of the Madonna and Child can be traced back to Raphael’s Madonna di Foligno. The template for the figure group was provided by another one of Marcantonio Raimondi engravings based on Raphael’s work (images 28-29). This is confirmed by the fact that Titian’s Madonna group is not a direct copy of the Raphael, but instead shows incredible similarity, in the movement of the Virgin and the position of the Child, with some of Raimondi’s engravings.

By the time Titian finished the Gozze painting he had already established himself as the premier painter in Venice. Now he was beginning to build up his reputation outside the confines of the Veneto and the territories of the Venetian colonial empire. However, Raphael’s influence on Titian did not stop here, as even in Titian’s later paintings we can still see traces and even direct borrowings from Raphael’s works. This was especially true after the Venetian’s only trip to Rome, in 1545-1546, when he finally had the chance to see a number of Raphael’s works in person.


The Age of Titian, Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections, P. Humfrey, T. Clifford, A. Weston-Lewis, M. Bury eds. [cat. exh. National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh], National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2004, p. 306-307.

Freedberg, S. J., Painting in Italy 1500-1600, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1993. Humfrey, P., Titian, Phaidon Press, New York, 2007.

Jaffé, D., ‘Foundations’, in Titian, D. Jaffé ed. [cat. exh. National Gallery, London], National Gallery, London, 2003, pp. 71-73.

Joannidies, P., The Drawings of Raphael, With a Complete Catalogue, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983.

-, Titian to 1518, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2001.

Landau, D., ‘The Triumph of Christ’, in The Genius of Venice 1500-1600, J. Martineau and C. Hope eds. [cat. exh. Royal Academy of Arts, London], Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1983, p. 319.

Late Raphael, T. Henry and P. Joannidies, eds. [exh. cat.Museo National del Prado, Madrid and Louvre, Paris], Madrid, 2012.

Rosand, D., and Muraro, M., Titian and the Venetian Woodcut, [exh. cat. National Gallery, Washington], International Exhibition Foundation, 1976.

Santi, B., ‘Raphael’, in The Protagonists of Italian Art, Scala, Florence 2001, pp. 322-402.

Talvacchia, B., Raphael, Phaidon Press, London, 2007.

Titian, Prince of Painters, [exh. cat. Pallazo Ducale, Venice and National Gallery of Art, Washington], Marsilio editori, Venice, 1990.

Tiziano, e il ritratto di corte da Raffaello ai Carracci, [cat. exh. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples], Electa, Naples, 2006.


[i]This is not to say that Titian’s work had nothing to offer Raphael. One clear example where the latter was influenced by the Venetian, is his portrait of Lorenzo de Medici (private collection, from around late 1517 – early 1518). It is a painting which clearly owes much to Titian’s Man With the Red Cap (c. 1514?). In general terms Raphael’s portraits are much in debt to Venetian examples (be they Titian’s or Sebastiano del Piombo’s; portraiture, in fact, was one of the few areas where Sebastiano could easily rival Raphael). The Venetian developments in portraiture all stem from Giorgione’s experiments from the first decade of the sixteenth century. For more on Raphael’s portrait of Lorenzo de Medici see Late Raphael, T. Henry and P. Joannidies, eds. [exh. cat. Museo National del Prado, Madrid and Louvre, Paris], Madrid, 2012, pp. 269-272; while for Titian’s picture, see Humfrey, P., Titian, Phaidon Press, New York, 2007 and for a more general reading on portraiture see Tiziano, e il ritratto di corte da Raffaello ai Carracci, [cat. exh. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples], Electa, Naples, 2006.

[ii] At one moment in this book on early Titian, Paul Joannidies toys with the idea that Raphael might in fact have visited Venice around 1507-1508. Conceivably this was the moment when the two artists might have met, but this is not universally accepted by other art historians. See Joannidies, P., Titian to 1518, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 145.

[iii]For an etching done after the painting see the catalogue entry for Martino Rota’s The Martyrdom of St Peter Martyr [after Titian], in The Age of Titian, Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections, P. Humfrey, T. Clifford, A. Weston-Lewis, M. Bury eds. [cat. exh. National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh], National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2004, pp. 306-307.

[iv]It is my belief that the pose of the Child in the Taddei Tondo actually comes from a pose of one of the soldiers seen in Michelangelo’s design for The Battle of Cascina. This is the solder in the centre of the group, which is still sitting on the bank of the river but turning toward the commotion behind him. See for example Michelangelo’s drawing Compositional study for ‘The Battle of Cascina’ at the Gabineto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi in Florence (inv. no. 613E). Additionally the British Museum has a study of a Sitting Male Nude (inv. no. 1887-5-2-116) depicting the same pose.

[v]The author of the engraving was Nicolas de Larmessin who was commissioned by Antoine Crozat. The print was published in 1729 in Crozat’s volume of prints. At that time the painting was in the collection of the Duke of Orleans in Paris.

[vi]Joannidies, Titian to 1518, pp. 96-97.

[vii]Jaffé, D., ‘Foundations’, in Titian, D. Jaffé ed. [cat. exh. National Gallery, London], National Gallery, London, 2003, p. 71.

[viii]For this see catalogue number 11 in Rosand, D., and Muraro, M., Titian and the Venetian Woodcut, [exh. cat. National Gallery, Washington], International Exhibition Foundation, 1976.

[ix]Joannidies, Titian to 1518, pp. 292-293.

[x]For more see Joannidies, P., The Drawings of Raphael, With a Complete Catalogue, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983, p. 90.

[xi]For more on this piece see Landau, D., ‘The Triumph of Christ’, in The Genius of Venice 1500-1600, J. Martineau and C. Hope eds. [cat. exh. Royal Academy of Arts, London], Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1983, p. 319.

[xii]So named after the name of the donor, the exiled Ragusan nobleman Aloise Gozze. Currently the painting is in the Pinacoteca F. Podesti in Ancona.

Cézanne Online

Just a quick post to draw attention to three (or four) Cézanne-related thingummies on the web.

1. Modernist Games.

modernist games screen shot

The first is an open-access scholarly book,  Modernist Games: Cézanne and His Card Players. Drawing largely from the papers given at a conference about the Card Players in January 2011, this is the first publication in a new series, Courtauld Books Online. It includes an essay by a “big name”–T. J. Clark. (Read his “A House of Cards” here.) I’ll be sharing my thoughts about the book later, when I write about it for the SECAC Review, but I’ll say now that I welcome the fact that the Courtauld has committed to publishing high-quality material online. I hope other institutions follow suit.


2. Mont Sainte-Victoire.

screen shot of smart history

This one comes from the department of shameless self promotion. I’ve just written about one of Cézanne’s late, great paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire, the version in The Philadelphia Museum of Art. You can read my short essay here. This is my first contribution to SmartHistory, which aims to make “high-quality introductory art history content freely available to anyone, anywhere.” The choice of works was partly governed by the fact that the Philadelphia landscape is included in the syllabus of the Advanced Placement (AP) Art History course. It was fun to write for such a potentially large audience.


3. The Paintings of Paul Cézanne.

the paintings of paul cezanne

Finally, some really good news. An online Catalogue Raisonné of Cézanne’s oil paintings is in the works. It will go live on May 12th, and I assume will be accessed here. Anyone who has struggled with John Rewald’s patchy 1996 catalogue will breath a sigh of relief, as will those who can’t afford the $200 for the book. Instead, we’ll soon be able to use, for free, something that I expect will be much better. Kudos to Walter Feilchenfeldt, Jayne Warman, and David Nash for continuing Rewald’s legacy and bringing it into the digital age. You can read more about the project here.

As for updated and online catalogues of the artist’s water-colours and drawings, we’ll probably have to wait a lot longer for those. But a boy can dream, can’t he?


4. Cézanne Site/Non-Site.

site non site

And this just in via twitter. @Arunadsouza alerts me to the rather nice website accompanying the Cézanne Site/Non-Site exhibition at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.



Roger Fry’s Silence

Just a quick note to say that one of my articles–‘The rest is silence: the sense of Roger Fry’s endings’–has recently been published. Better still, thanks to the Journal of Art Historiography, it’s available for free, and you can read it here.

Ramsey and Muspratt, Roger Fry, 1932, Bromide Print

Ramsey and Muspratt, Roger Fry, 1932, Bromide Print

Edited by Richard Woodfield, the journal is affiliated with the University of Birmingham’s Barber Institute, where I first “converted” to art history. I delivered a version of my paper in New York this February, as part of Jeanne-Marie Musto’s CAA panel To what end? Eschatology in art historiography. Thanks to Jeanne-Marie and Richard for their roles in helping to make my paper, and the other papers from the panel, available to a much larger audience.

It’s great that there are now a number of peer-reviewed art history journals with open access policies. (I hope more follow suit.) Apart from the Journal of Art Historiography, another favourite is Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, which also has reliably good contributors and high quality content.

Farewell Hasan…

Hasan Niyazi, the brains behind Three Pipe Problem, has died prematurely and unexpectedly. His loss is a great one for art-history bloggers and the online art-history community in general, and moving tributes have already been posted to him at Alberti’s Window, Giorgione et al, and Baroque Potion. I’m sure there will be many more.

I’m facing an imminent deadline at the moment but, in lieu of a proper tribute to Hasan, thought I could at least post this. It’s a letter of support I wrote for Hasan’s application for a CAA International Travel Grant, so apologies for its necessarily formal tone.

I began by describing my own online projects…

…. In pursuing these various projects, Hasan has offered me invaluable encouragement and practical support during a period when art historical institutions have often been slow to embrace the possibilities of the web.

Hasan is a unique and remarkable figure in the field. Despite having a career as a physiotherapist, he also manages to work on ambitious art historical projects, and has developed a distinctive art historical voice. This voice combines a number of Hasan’s qualities: his passion for art (particularly Renaissance art); his professional commitment to rigorous scientific methodology; and his desire to discuss art with as many people as possible. Unlike many professional art historians, he has a clear vision of how art history should and could be: rigorous, relevant, technologically sophisticated, and as widely accessible as possible.

This vision is certainly abundantly evident in Three Pipe Problem, but also in his extremely useful AHDB (Art & History: Site Database and Search). And once his Open Raphael project goes live, the full extent of Hasan’s achievements will become evident for all to see. It seems highly likely that this research tool, which synthesizes a wealth of information and makes it freely available to all, will become an essential tool for Raphael students and scholars. It will demonstrate what a web-based catalogue raisonné should be like. Incredibly, Hasan has done all of this with no institutional support, just his intelligence and a formidable work ethic.

Hasan’s blog posts from the recent Raphael conference in Madrid demonstrated how travel could enrich his art historical activities. They also indicated how he can use his blog to expand the “reach” of a conference far beyond the physical limits of its venue. Hasan would undoubtedly make similarly excellent use of the opportunity to travel from Melbourne in order to attend CAA 2013 in New York, should he be given the opportunity. Since they relate so closely to his projects, I would be particularly interested in his thoughts on the panel devoted to “the new connoisseurship,” as well as on those panels addressing “technical art history.”  Like several other art historians of my acquaintance, I am very much hoping to meet Hasan at CAA, so that we may continue in person conversations that have been initiated online and from afar.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions about Hasan and/or his application. He both thoroughly deserves a CAA International Travel Grant and would be a most enlightened choice of recipient.

Had Hasan’s application been successful, I would have met him in New York earlier this year. Alas, it was not to be. But I will treasure the email, twitter, and blog interactions that I did have with Hasan. He was a generous, intelligent soul, and he will not be forgotten.

Tweet for Hasan, 20 June 2013

Tweet for Hasan (one of many), 20 June 2013

The Ins and Outs of Banksy and Cezanne

No sooner do I blog about Cézanne’s letters than a certain street artist–Banksy by name–quotes from these very letters on his new website: www.banksyny.com. By the looks of it, the site will cover his shenanigans in New York, where he will be for the next month. The street, the caption for the main image informs us, is in play. I’ll return to that image later.

banksyny page

www.banksyny.com, with Cezanne quote circled.

Banksy announces his main theme at the top of the website: “better out than in.” It’s an expressionist’s manifesto (don’t bottle it up!) and a phrase I’ve always associated with belching. But it could also easily extend to other bodily acts. In a recent Los Angeles piece, Banksy links it to puking and gives the “out,” the floral vomit, a sculptural dimension.

Banksy, Better out than in, 2013

Banksy, Better out than in, 2013

Bansky’s “out” is also, of course, the art of the street, rather than the “in” of the studio (and by extension, the gallery and the museum). This brings us nicely to the quote he takes from Cézanne’s letters, where “outside” means landscape painting:

Cezanne quote from banksyny.com

Cézanne quote from banksyny.com

Banksy finds some kinship with the Nineteenth Century and a kind of historical justification for street art, but only by cheekily ripping the quote out of context. That’s part of the fun.

Scholastic aside: he uses the version of the quote given in John Rewald’s edition of the letters, rather than the one in Alex Danchev’s just-published version. (Heavens forbid that we might struggle with Cézanne’s French.) Here is the quote in a fuller context, as it appears in Danchev’s translation: “You know, all the paintings done indoors, in the studio, will never be as good as the things done outdoors. In showing outdoor scenes, the contrast between the figures and the ground are astonishing, and the landscape is magnificent. I see some superb things, and I must resolve to paint only out of doors.”*

Cézanne wrote the letter to Emile Zola and it’s dated 19 October 1866, which makes it a very early declaration of plein-air principles. The letter includes a number of pencil sketches of paintings Cézanne was then working on. One of the paintings, he explains, features two of their friends, “Marion and Valabregue leaving for the motif (a landscape of course).” Reproduced below is an oil sketch Cézanne made of the same subject.

Marion and Valabregue setting out for the motif, oil study

Cézanne: Marion and Valabregue setting out for the motif, oil study

Cézanne creates an origin story for landscape painting–the companionable departure of the well-equipped artists, the search for the motif, and the anticipated conversion of nature into paintings.

Banksy, too, makes his own kind of origin myth and one that likewise involves an act of male camaraderie, albeit now with a touch of illegality added. An old-timey street urchin helps his partner in crime reach for some incongruously modern equipment. We imagine the activation of the can and this spray will serve as the final proof of the adage. For, from the point of view of the street artist, aerosolized pigment is also “better out than in.”

Banksy, The Street is in Play

Banksy, The Street is in Play

*Mais, vois-tu, tous les tableaux faits à l’intérieur, dans l’atelier, ne vaudront jamais les choses faites en plein air. En représentant des scènes du dehors, les oppositions des figures sur les terrains sont étonnantes, et le paysage est magnifique. Je vois des choses superbes, et il faut que je me résolve à ne faire que des choses en plein air.

Seven types of ambiguity, Cezanne on Chardin

Alex Danchev’s new translation of The Letters of Paul Cézanne has just been published and, at first glance, looks like a significant improvement on existing collections of the artist’s letters. For starters, Danchev includes some twenty letters, including several to Monet, that are not found in John Rewald’s earlier volume. I’ve yet to read Danchev’s translations systematically, but it’s worth noting that we are now in the position of having multiple English-language translations to compare and choose between. The important letters Cézanne wrote to Emile Bernard, for example, exist in at least four different English translations.

To give you a flavour of these differences, I thought I’d compare the various ways just one section of a letter has been treated. It’s a paragraph taken from a letter to Bernard, dated 27 June 1904. It particularly intrigues me because it’s the only point in his correspondence where Cézanne mentions Chardin. But he chooses to tell Bernard about Chardin’s self-portrait, not, as one might have predicted, a still-life.

Chardin, Self-Portrait, pastel

Chardin, Self-Portrait, pastel

Here then are seven versions of this paragraph, including five different English translations and any accompanying footnotes. I’ll let the differences speak for themselves.

1. Photograph of Cézanne’s original letter (paragraph starts on the right side, fourth line down)

Cezanne, Letter to Bernard, 27 June 1904

Cézanne, Letter to Bernard, 27 June 1904


2. Transcription in French.

Vous vous rappelez le beau pastel de Chardin, armé d’une paire de bésicles, une visière faisant auvent.—C’est un roublard ce peintre. Avez-vous pas remarqué, qu’en faisant chevaucher sur son nez un léger plan transversal d’arête, les valeurs s’établissent mieux à la vue.—Vérifiez ce fait, et vous me direz, si je me trompe.


3. From John Rewald (editor) and Marguerite Kay (translator), Paul Cézanne: Letters (Da Capo Press, 1995 [1941]).

“You remember the fine pastel by Chardin, equipped with a pair of spectacles and a visor providing a shade. He’s an artful fellow, this painter. Haven’t you noticed that by letting a light plate ride across the bridge of the nose the tone values present themselves better to the eye?[a] Verify this fact and tell me if I am wrong.”

a. This sentence is not clear, the French text reads: N’avez-vous pas remarqué qu’en faisant chevaucher sur son nex [sic] un léger plan transversal d’arête, les valeurs s’établissent mieux à la vue?


4. From Michael Doran (editor) and Julie Lawrence Cochran (translator), Conversations with Cézanne (University of California Press, 2001)

“You remember Chardin’s beautiful pastel self-portrait in which he is wearing a pair of eye glasses and a visor which served as a shade.[11] (He’s a clever one, that painter!) Have you noticed how that thin intersecting plane across his nose enhances the values?[12]—Go verify this for me and tell me if I am wrong.—”

11. The reference is to Chardin’s pastel self-portrait of 1775, Autoportrait à l’abatjour [Portrait of Chardin Wearing an Eyeshade], in the Louvre.

12. It may be noted that a straight-edged plane, used as an eyeshade in this way, also encourages the interpretation as curves of “straight” horizontals in the motif being viewed. This may help to explain one class of Cézannian “distortion.”


5. From John House (translator), The Courtauld Cézannes (The Courtauld Gallery in association with Paul Holberton Publishing, 2008)

“Do you remember the beautiful pastel of Chardin, wearing a pair of spectacles, with a visor shading his eyes. He is a crafty one, that painter. Have you noticed that by placing a little horizontal plane across the bridge of his nose he made the values work together better? Check this, and let me know if I am wrong.”


6. From Alex Danchev (editor and translator), The Letters of Paul Cezanne (The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2013)

“Do you remember the beautiful pastel by Chardin, equipped with a pair of spectacles with a visor shading his eyes?[1] He’s a crafty one, that painter. Have you noticed how, by allowing a plane of light to cross his nose at a slight angle, the values adapt much better to the eye? Take a close look and tell me if I’m not right.”

1. Self-Portrait Wearing an Eyeshade (1775) was a late work, as Cézanne would have known, painted four years before his death. It was acquired by the Louvre in 1839.


7. From Google translate (http://translate.google.com/), accessed 26 September, 2013

“You remember the beautiful pastel de Chardin, armed with a pair of spectacles, a visor making auvent.-C is a rogue this painter. Have you not noticed that overlapping on his nose a slight transverse ridge, the values ​​are set to the best view.-check this and tell me if I’m wrong.”

google goes cezanne Jan 19 2011

This June, while in Paris, I wanted to play the role of Bernard, so I went to the Louvre to “verify,” “check,” and “take a close look” at the Chardin. But this is what I found. The photo should not require much translation.

IMG_5075 (1024x940)

When Roger Met Nessa

First theme: Digital Scanning.

I’ve been holed-up in Mississippi State University’s library recently, and getting to grips with their new digital microform readers. These wonderful analogue/digital hybrids make scanning old journals a cinch and they’re entirely free for the library patron to use. (Where the heck was this technology when I really needed it over a decade ago, when I was researching my dissertation?) As part of my ongoing research about Roger Fry, I’ve been methodically scanning hundreds of pages from old copies of the British journal The Athenaeum, where he once worked as an art critic. Fry started there in 1901 and left in 1906, when he took up the position of the Curator of Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A Newfangled Microform Reader: Pleasingly Vertical

A Newfangled Microform Reader: Pleasingly Vertical

Second theme: Squares and Triangles.

If you know just one witty quote about the Bloomsbury Group, with which Fry was affiliated, it’s probably this one: “They lived in squares, and loved in triangles.” But consider the triangle, and consider the case of Fry and Vanessa Bell, the painter. Though both were already married, albeit unhappily, they had an affair between around 1911 and 1913. So, at least on this occasion, Bloomsbury’s sexual geometry was as square as where they lived.

Vanessa Bell, Portrait of Roger Fry, 1912

Vanessa Bell, Portrait of Roger Fry, 1912

In her Memories of Roger Fry, Bell provides an account of her early encounters with Fry. Around 1902 or 1903, she glimpsed from afar “the Roger Frys” [i.e. Fry and his wife, Helen] at Kings College, Cambridge. (A companion identified the couple for her.) Then, a few years later, she was seated by the Frys at a dinner party. At this party, Bell recalled, “[Helen] or Roger asked me to go and see them at Hampstead…. The visit to Hampstead did not happen at once–I think Helen Fry must have been ill and perhaps they went away–various things prevented it, but at last I went.” Tragically, Helen Fry would soon be permanently institutionalized, but Vanessa and Roger’s relationship grew into a relatively short-lived romance and, then, an enduring friendship, which was only ended by Fry’s death in 1934.

Third theme: Synthesis, or when Roger (sort of ) Met Nessa.

Back at the digital microform reader, I continued trawling though the hundreds of articles Fry wrote for The Athenaeum. Eventually I came across a 1902 review which, I think, records what must have been the critic’s first meeting with Bell. I use “meeting” in the loosest sense of the word, for what Fry encountered in the gallery was a portrait, not a person. And this person-in-the-portrait was not Vanessa Bell but, as the painting’s title put it, Miss Vanessa Stephen (No. 85), for she was not yet married. At any rate, since I don’t think this meeting (or pre-meeting) has been mentioned in biographies or memoirs, I draw attention to it here. It’s a curious footnote to the existing accounts of this central Bloomsbury relationship.

Fry was reviewing the spring exhibition of the New English Art Club (or NEAC), the main alternative to the Royal Academy, and he paused to write at some length about no. 85, the portrait of Vanessa.  The portraitist, and the third point in this artistic triangle, was Charles Furse. (In 1900, Bell had served as a bridesmaid at Furse’s wedding, but nevertheless considered him a “formidable and crushing” character.) Furse’s portrait of Vanessa Stephen, Frances Spalding informs us, showed “Vanessa gazing into a mirror, in a pose reminiscent of Whistler’s Little White Girl.”

Whistler, Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl, 1864

Whistler, Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl, 1864

I reproduce Whistler’s work because unfortunately Furse’s painting was destroyed in the Blitz. Fry’s impressions of the portrait can be found below, in an excerpt from his 1902 review. The scan comes from the original journal (thanks again, microform reader!):

Excerpt from Fry's review of the NEAC Exhibition, The Athenaeum, 12 April 1902

Excerpt from Fry’s review of the NEAC Exhibition, The Athenaeum, 12 April 1902

“[W]e form”, Fry writes, “the idea of a person by abstracting from a number of momentary impressions and rejecting those which are not constant.” Would, one wonders, Fry have accepted Furse’s idea of Vanessa as constant with the real woman, had he known her in 1902? And was this image of Vanessa still in his memory when Fry met her at that dinner party just a few years later? Did he ever, that is, connect the portrait with the person he would later know and love? And, for her part, was Vanessa Stephen conscious of people recognizing her because of their familiarity with Furse’s prominent portrait?

A stint in the library sometimes provokes such unanswerable questions.

Roger Fry, Portrait of Vanessa Bell, 1911

Roger Fry, Portrait of Vanessa Bell, 1911

A Compendium of Auto-Iconoclasm (Cézanne edition)


A video of a disastrous art critique circulated on social media a while ago. (You can watch it here: strong language alert!)

student destroys work

The footage culminates in the student destroying her painting. To be more precise, she stamps on the canvas, strikes it against the wall and the floor, and then attempts to rip it in half; failing at this, she finally throws the battered work on the ground, curses the class, and exits. Art students must sometimes feel like doing this during their critiques: few take it that crucial step further.

My mind has returned to this footage recently, while I’ve been rereading the early literature about Paul Cézanne. Cézanne’s first biographers—Bernard, Vollard, and Gasquet—loved a good anecdote and Cézanne provided them with plenty. Their many accounts of the artist destroying (or neglecting) his own works became a crucial part of his legend.

Reading them, one wonders what was lost and how many works Cézanne destroyed. Could an artist who worked so slowly—another important element of this legend—really have destroyed so many works while still leaving behind some 950 oil paintings, not to mention the water-colours and drawings? There’s presumably an element of exaggeration, as well as truth, to these accounts. Ambroise Vollard, for example, clearly understood their appeal and grasped that his role as Cézanne’s dealer added some piquancy and humour. When we read them, it’s as though we can hear Vollard’s thoughts: there he goes again, losing me money!

I thought I’d excerpt these stories and share them here. Read together, the repetition and variety in the accounts becomes evident. As with our art student, Cézanne can be angry, spontaneous, and inventive in his destructive acts. He finds expedient ways to make a point or vent his frustration. But when he does away with selections of his old work, he is perhaps being more reflective and editorial—exercising his right to cull the works that don’t accord with his own sense of his oeuvre.

Cezanne, Self-portrait with palette, c.1885-7

Cezanne, Self-portrait with palette, c.1885-7

The strongly social (or anti-social) dimension to these accounts is as apparent with Cézanne as it is with the art student. Many of them have their origins in portrait sessions, where attacking the canvas would be tantamount to assaulting, if not the sitter exactly, then certainly the sitter’s investment of time and energy. Other stories are connected to Cézanne’s rejection at the Salon, to his legendary isolation, to his paranoia, and to his supposed humility. They contribute to the hagiography of Saint Paul.

Art history has long been concerned with the theory and history of iconoclasm, but my hunch is that acts of auto-iconoclasm have been less thoroughly explored, and persist mainly as artist anecdotes. So I’d be curious to hear from the readers of this blog in the comments section. Do you know of similar stories about other artists, or can you point me to critical explorations of this phenomenon?

Excerpts from Cezanne’s biographers

Without further ado, here’s my compendium. Since they are thematically related, I’ve also included  stories about Cézanne’s passive destruction of objects (his neglect and abandonment of objects); a story about the artist mistreating somebody else’s creation; and one featuring another Paul Cézanne: the artist’s son. Oh, and the section headings pay tribute to Richard Serra’s Verb List.

i. To want to destroy.

Bernard in Conversations with Cézanne, p.69:

This painting [The Portrait of Achille Emperaire] was sent to the Salon, probably after the war, and refused, as was the Reclining Nude. I discovered it under a pile of mediocre paintings at Julien Tanguy’s who told me the story. He must have hidden from Cézanne who wanted to destroy it.

Stock, Caricature of Cezanne, with the Portrait of Achille Emperaire and the Reclining Nude (salon submissions for 1870)

Stock, Caricature of Cezanne, with the Portrait of Achille Emperaire and the Reclining Nude (salon submissions for 1870)

ii. To not collect

Gasquet, p.89:

His large Femme couchée had been rejected by the Salon, as usual. But he persisted. Each year he sent a picture; each year it was thrown out. He didn’t even bother to collect his pictures. He felt persecuted.

iii. To tear up

Gasquet, p.78:

“This will be my picture,” he would say occasionally, “the one I shall leave behind… But the centre? I can’t find the centre… Tell me, what shall I group it all around? Ah, Poussin’s arabesque! He knew all about that. In the London Bacchanal, in the Louvre Flora, where does the line of the figures and the landscape begin, where does it finish… It’s all one. There is no center. Personally, I would like something like a hole, a ray of light, an invisible sun to keep an eye on my figures, to bathe them, caress them, intensify them… in the middle.”

And he would tear up a sketch.

iv. To work, to tear into small pieces

Gasquet, p.91:

One evening he handed me a sheet of drawing paper covered with a network of curves, squares, geometric figures curiously interwoven; at the bottom he had underlined this phrase in his large handwriting: “Use up your youth in the arms of the Muse… Her love is consolation for everything else.” Higher up, he had written “SIGNORELLI” in capital letters, and in small letters “Rubens.” One of the squares was lightly tinted with blue watercolour. He handed me the sheet.

“It’s from Gautier… Work, one must work,” he said.

He turned his back on me abruptly, muttering: “Art consoles one for living.” And snatching the paper back, he tore it into small pieces and said not another word to me until I left.

v. To grab, to kick, to throw, to stamp

Gasquet, p.120:

[W]e found him stamping his foot on a rock with his fists clenched, looking with tear-filled eyes at his torn canvas, blown away by a gust of wind. And as we ran to retrieve it from the bushes in the quarry he cried out, “Leave it, leave it… I was nearly there this time. I had it, I had it… But it’s not meant to happen. No. No… Leave it.”

The wonderful landscape in which the Sainte-Victoire shone out above valleys touched with blue, fresh, tender and radiant, was stuck in a thicket where the wind had driven it. Battered, scratched, it was bleeding like a human being. We saw the brown surface of the canvas, ripped by the squall, the red marble quarries, the pines, the jewel-like mountain, the intense sky… Confronted by the subject itself, it was a masterpiece that equaled nature. Cézanne his eyes popping out of his head, watched with us. A great anger, a madness—we couldn’t make out what—came over him. He walked over to the picture, grabbed it, tore at it, threw it on the rocks, kicked holes in it with his boots, stamped on it. Then abruptly he subsided and shook his fists at us as if we were responsible: “Off with you! Out of my sight!…” And hidden among the pines we heard him crying like a child for more than an hour.

Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bibemus, c.1897

Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bibemus, c.1897

vi. To be discouraged, to abandon

Jourdain, in Conversations with Cézanne, p.83

He confessed to us that he had driven to the same motif at least a hundred times with a load of materials and a canvas which, after becoming discouraged, he had abandoned under a tree.

vii. To rip to pieces, to destroy

Vollard, p. 23:

Zola even posed for a portrait; but it did not “go” well at all, and the young painter, already quick to be discouraged, lost no time in destroying the canvas.

“I’ve ripped it to pieces; your portrait, you know. I tried to work on it this morning, but it went from bad to worse, so I destroyed it….”

viii. To reduce to shreds

Vollard, p.86:

I heard… a resounding oath, and turning around, I saw Cézanne wild-eyed, his palette-knife raised over my portrait. I was petrified with fear for what might happen; at last, after moments which seemed like hours, Cézanne turned his fury against another canvas, which was instantly reduced to shreds. The reason for his wrath, it seems, was this: in a corner of the studio opposite to where I was posing, there had always been an old faded carpet. On that particular day, unfortunately, the maid had taken it away with the laudable intention of beating it. Cézanne explained that it was intolerable not to have that carpet in its accustomed place; it would be impossible for him to continue my portrait; he would never touch a brush again as long as lived.

Cezanne, Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 1899

Cezanne, Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 1899

ix. To slash up

Vollard, p.88:

One day when someone had disturbed him at his work, and he had slashed up one of his pictures, he said to me, “Excuse me, Monsieur Vollard, but when I am studying, I must have absolute quiet.”

x. To cut, to repair

Alfred Hauge, letter to Thorvald Erichsen, August 26, 1899:

He has painted a portrait of me, it was excellent. One day in madness, he suddenly cut it to pieces with a knife in anger. His son had it repaired in Paris, and will give it to me without his knowledge.

Cezanne, Portrait of Alfred Hauge, 1899

Cezanne, Portrait of Alfred Hauge, 1899


xi. To pitch into the fire, to fling into the fireplace

Vollard, p.105:

“You can’t ask a man [i.e. Zola] to talk sensibly about the art of painting, if he simply doesn’t know anything about it. But by God!”—and here Cézanne began to tap on the table like a deaf man—“how can he dare to say that a painter is done for because he has painted one bad picture? When a picture isn’t realized, you pitch it in the fire and start another one!”

As he talked, Cézanne paced up and down the studio like a caged animal. Suddenly seizing a portrait of himself he tried to tear it to pieces; but his palette knife had been mislaid, and his hands were trembling violently. So he rolled the canvas up, broke it across his knee, and flung it in the fireplace.

xii. To break

Bernard, in Conversations with Cézanne, p. 56:

On the mantel was the beginning of a bust in red clay meant to represent Cézanne. “Solari did that, a poor devil of a sculptor and a lifelong friend. I always told him he really screwed up by going to his Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He begged me to let him do the bust. I told him, ‘You know that I can’t stand to pose. If you want, you can come to the room on the first floor; I work upstairs. When you see me, you can observe, then do your work.’ He ended up losing interest in this piece of garbage; it’s depressing.’ Then he took the little bust out into the garden. There, kicking it into large paving stone, he cried, “It’s stupid after all!” And he broke it. After leaving his foot, the unfinished likeness rolled on the pebbles, under the olive trees, and there it stayed, disintegrating under the sun, all the rest of the time I was in Aix.

Solari, Bust of Cezanne

Solari, Bust of Cezanne

xiii. To burn

Gasquet, pp.72-4:

In the attic at the Jas de Bouffan I have seen a canvas full of holes, slashed with a knife, grimy with dust, which had landed up there somehow or other and which was burnt, it seems, along with thirty others, even in Cézanne’s lifetime without his deigning to bother with them…. “Just the thing for Mirbeau—eh?” said Cézanne, who caught me deep in thought before this scene, and with a kick he sent it rolling to the back of the loft.

xiv. To pierce

Vollard, pp.62-3:

The first thing that struck me as I set foot in the studio was a huge picture of a peasant pierced full of holes with a palette knife. Cézanne used to fly into a passion for the most absurd reasons—sometimes for no reason at all—and was wont to vent his anger upon his canvases. One time, for instance, thinking his son looked a little jaded, he immediately imagined that he boy had “slept out,” woe to the canvas which happened to be nearest at hand!

xv. To poke holes, to open up

Vollard p. 63:

I may add that the world has young Paul to blame for the destruction of more than one Cézanne. As a child he used to poke holes in his father’s canvases to the great delight of the fond parent. “Look, my son has opened up the windows and the chimneys!” he would say. “He knows it’s a house, the little rascal!”

xvi. To tear up, to burn, to scrape down, to scratch out

Gasquet, p.122:

Knowing that people were beginning to make money out of all his works, including unconsidered scraps which he despised particularly, he began now to tear up or burn his unfinished studies, he scraped them down or scratched them out with his palette knife. He had less and less faith in his genius. This kind of success, which he found unenviable, these speculative operations buzzing around his work, upset him.

“They’re up to some trick… some dirty trick,” he said.

xvii. To fling into the fire

Vollard p.77:

I can never forgive myself for having insisted on Cézanne’s putting some of his own work on the walls of his studio. He pinned up about ten water-colors; but one day when the work was going badly, and after he had fretted and fumed and consigned both himself and the Almighty to the devil, he suddenly opened the stove, and tearing the water-colors from the walls, flung them into the fire. I saw a flicker of flame. The painter took up his palette again, his anger appeased.

Cezanne, The Stove in the Studio, c.1865

Cezanne, The Stove in the Studio, c.1865

xviii. To slash in an excess of despair or anger

Gasquet, p.136:

He believed that people were following him, spying on him. He hastened his step, struck out at passers-by and fled. Children howled at the grotesque clown. He reached his atelier in Les Lauvres, closed all the doors and windows, barricaded himself in, and with clenched fists, in front of some canvas, occasionally slashing it in an excess of despair or anger, he wondered what he could have done to people and things to be surrounded this way by such unanimous hostility, he who loved everybody….

xix. To walk over, to fold, to wedge, to leave to rot, to never complete, to realize

Gasquet, p.138:

Now he was invaded by a kind of hatred of himself, of the work he had done, and this grew with his loneliness. Never, I believe, had anyone felt such scorn for his life’s work. He was completely detached from it. His canvases, the most beautiful of them, lay about the floor, he walked over them. One, folded in four, was used as a wedge in a wardrobe. He left them in the fields, he left them rotting in bastidons where the peasants put them under cover. With his fanatical taste for perfection, his worship of the absolute, they represented for him only a moment, an inarticulate leap towards the formula that he was never to complete. He attached no more importance to them than a saint does to the material aspect of good works accomplished for the love of God. He forgot them right away, to move on to a more significant task. To realize, as he would say; he wanted to realize.

xx. To tread on, to ignore

Gasquet, pp.131-2:

For eighteen months at the Jas de Bouffan, he worked furiously at the Old Woman with a Rosary. When the canvas was finished, he thrust it into a corner. It became covered with dust, lay about on the floor, unrecognizable, trodden on and unheeded. One day I spotted it, found it against the stove under the coal-scuttle, where a drop of condensed steam from the zinc pipe was falling on it every five minutes or so. I don’t know what miracle had preserved it intact. I cleaned it. She appeared before me…

Cezanne, Old Woman with a Rosary, 1895-6

Cezanne, Old Woman with a Rosary, 1895-6

xxi. To tear, to burn, to destroy, to restart

Gasquet, p.78:

Until his death, and beginning at this period, when he made his first sketch inspired by Rubens, he worked constantly on an enormous canvas, abandoned and taken up again twenty times over, torn, burnt, destroyed, restarted, the final version of which is in the Pellerin collection.

Cezanne, Great Bathers, 1906

Cezanne, Great Bathers, 1906

xxii. To slash, to work on (again), to leave unfinished

Vollard, pp.45-7:

In 1890 Cézanne exhibited three canvases at the “Twenty” in Brussels [including] a composition of Bathers. Subsequently the painter slashed this last canvas with a palette knife, then worked on it again, and finally left it unfinished.

The Bathers included in Les XX Exhibition, 1890

Cezanne, The Bathers included in Les XX Exhibition of 1890

xxiii. To abandon, to be reabsorbed, to be replaced

Gasquet p.120:

And he worked. Slowly. Fervidly. Stubbornly. When a work was almost finished, he sometimes abandoned it, left it in the sun or rain, to be reabsorbed by the countryside like dust—a seasonal offering to be replaced by a later growth, another image.

xxiv. To toss, to collect, to  continue

Vollard, p.63:

Cézanne’s household held the painter in such respect that, when he left a mangled canvas in the garden or on the ash heap, they saw to it that it was put in the fire. An exception to the rule was a certain still-life. Cézanne had tossed it out of the window, but it had caught in the branches of a cherry-tree, and had hung there a long time. Inasmuch as they had seen Cézanne armed with a long pole prowling about the tree, they decided that he intended to recover the canvas, and consequently they left it severely alone. I was present when the canvas was rescued. We were walking in the garden, Cézanne, young Paul, and I. The painter, who was a few paces in advance, his head slightly bent, turned around suddenly and said to the young man: “Son, we must get down the Apples; I think I’ll work on that study some more.”

cezanne, apples

Cezanne, Apples, c.1880


Michael Doran (editor), Conversations with Cézanne (Berkeley: University of California Press).

Joachim Gasquet, Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991 [1921].

John Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.)

Ambroise Vollard, Cézanne (Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 1984 [1914].

Dictionary of Received Ideas (arty edition)

I’ve always enjoyed Flaubert’s Dictionnaire des idées reçues, his inventory of bromides, clichés, and platitudes. (Would listing things in groups of three qualify?!)

Below, I’ve excerpted most of the entries of relevance to the visual arts, and have added some images and links. The translation is by Jacques Barzun and I recommend the larger book, which you can buy here.


ALABASTER. Its use is to describe the most beautiful parts of a woman’s body.

AMPHITHEATER. You will know of only one, that of the Beaux-Arts School.

ANGEL. Eminently suitable for love and literature.

ANTIQUES. Always modern fakes.


ARCHITECTS. All idiots: they always forget to put in the stairs.


ARCHITECTURE. There are but four architectural orders. Forgetting, of course, the Egyptian, Cyclopean, Assyrian, Hindoo, Chinese, Gothic, Romanesque, etc.

ART. Shortest path to the poorhouse. What use is it since machinery can make things better and quicker?

ARTISTS. All charlatans. Praise their disinterestedness (old-fashioned). Express surprise that they dress like everyone else (old-fashioned). They earn huge sums and squander them. Often asked to dine out. Woman artist necessarily a whore. What artists do cannot be called work.

BASILICA. Grandiose synonym for church. Always: “an impressive basilica.”


BLACK AS. Follow invariably with “your hat” or “pitch.” As for “jet black,” what is jet?

BRONZE. Metal of the classic centuries.

CABINET MAKER. Craftsman who works mostly in mahogany.

CATHOLICISM. Has had a good influence on art.

CENSORSHIP. “Say what you will, it’s a good thing.”

CHIAROSCURO. Meaning unknown.

COUNTERFEITERS. Always work below ground.

CRIMSON. Nobler word than red.

Daumier, The Influential Critic at the Salon

Daumier, The Influential Critic at the Salon

CRITIC. Always “eminent.” Supposed to know everything, read everything, see everything. When you dislike him, call him a Zoilus, a eunuch.

CRUCIFIX. Looks well above a bedstead–or the guillotine.

Signature of Queen Elizabeth I

Signature of Queen Elizabeth I

CURLICUES (AROUND A SIGNATURE). The more complicated, the more beautiful.

DAGUERREOTYPE. Will replace painting. (See PHOTOGRAPHY.)

DELFT. More swank than “china.”

DOLMEN. Has to do with the old Gauls. Stone used for human sacrifice. Found only in Brittany. Knowledge ends there.

Dome of the Invalides, Paris

Dome of the Invalides, Paris

DOME. Tower with an architectural shape. Express surprise that it stays up. Two can be named: the Dome of the Invalides; that of St. Peter’s in Rome.

DRAWING (art of). “Consists of three things: line, stippling and fine stippling. There is, in addition, the masterstroke; but the masterstroke can only by given by the master” (Christophe).

DUPUYTREN. Famous for his salve and his museum.

ECLECTICISM. Thunder against as being an immoral philosophy.

ENAMEL. The secret of this art is lost.

ERECTION. Said only of monuments.

Etruscan Vase, British Museum

Etruscan Vase, British Museum

ETRUSCAN. All antique vases are Etruscan.

EUNUCH. Never can have children… Fulminate against the castrati singers of the Sistine Chapel.

FACADE (OF BUILDINGS). Great men look well when sculptured in front of.

david's figleaf

Figleaf for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s copy of Michelangelo’s David

FIGLEAF. Emblem of virility in the art of sculpture.

FOREHEAD. Wide and bald, a sign of genius, or of self-confidence.


Raphael, La Fornarina

FORNARINA. She was a beautiful woman. That is all you need to know.

FOSSIL. A proof of the Flood. A joke in good taste when alluding to a member of the Academy.

FRESCO PAINTING. No longer done.

GENIUS. No point admiring–it’s a neurosis.

gobelins tapestry

Gobelins tapestry

GOBELINS. A tapestry of this kind is an amazing piece of work, it takes fifty years to make. On seeing it, exclaim: “It is more beautiful than a painting!” The workman does not even know what he is about.

GOTHIC. Architectural style which inspires religious feeling to a greater degree than others.

HANDWRITING. A neat hand leads to the top. Undecipherable: a sign of deep science, e.g. doctors’ prescriptions.

Welsh bard saved as jpg

HARP. Gives out celestial harmonies. In engravings, is only played next to ruins or on the edge of a torrent. Shows off the arm and hand.

HIEROGLYPHICS. Language of the ancient Egyptians, invented by the priests to conceal their shameful secrets. “Just think! There are people who understand hieroglyphics! But after all, the whole thing may be a hoax…”

IDEALISM. The best of all philosophic systems.

IMAGINATION. Always “lively.” Be on guard against it. When lacking in oneself, attack it in others. To write a novel, all you need is imagination.

IMPRESARIO. Artist’s word meaning Manager. Always preceded by “clever.”

INCRUSTATION. Applies only to mother-of-pearl.

INDIA-RUBBER. Made of horse’s scrotum.


INSCRIPTION. Always “cuneiform.”

INSPIRATION (POETIC). Brought on by: a sight of the sea, love, women, etc.

IVORY. Refers only to teeth.

JAPAN. Everything there is made of China.

JASPER. All vases in museums are made of jasper.

KALEIDOSCOPE. Used only to describe picture exhibitions.

KEEPSAKE. Only to be found on every drawing-room table.

Courbet, View of Ornans

Courbet, View of Ornans

LANDSCAPES (ON CANVAS). Always so much spinach.

LOCKET. Must contain a lock of hair or a photograph.

LUXURY. The downfall of great states.


Made of Parian marble: The Nike of Samothrace

MARBLE. Every statue is made of Parian marble.

MODELLING. In front of a statue, say: “The modelling is not without charm.”

MOSAIC. The secret of the art is lost.

Versailles. Recalls the days of the nation’s history. A splendid idea of Louis Philippe’s.
The Louvre. To be avoided by young ladies.
Dupuytren. Recommended for young men.

NATURE. How beautiful is Nature! Repeat every time you are in the country.

Ingres, Grande Odalisque

Ingres, Grande Odalisque

ODALISQUES. All women in the Orient are odalisques.

ORIENTALIST. Far-flung traveler.

ORIGINAL. Make fun of everything that is original, hate it, beat it down, annihilate it if you can.

PAINTING ON GLASS. The secret of the art is lost.

PALM TREE. Supplies local colour.

Nadar, Portrait of Flaubert

Nadar, Portrait of Flaubert

PHOTOGRAPHY. Will make painting obsolete. (See DAGUERREOTYPE.)

PRIESTLY CALLING. “Art, medicine, etc. are so many priestly callings.”

PYRAMID. Useless edifice.

Delacroix, The Raft of the Medusa

Delacroix, The Raft of the Medusa

RAFT. Always “of the Medusa.”

RUINS. Induce reverie; make a landscape poetic.

SALON. To write up the Salon is a good beginning in literature; it allows a man to cut a figure.

SCENERY (STAGE). Isn’t real painting. The only skill required is to splash paint on the cloth and smear it with a broom–distance and lighting do the rest.

Vasari, Apelles and the Cobbler

Vasari, Apelles and the Cobbler

SHOEMAKER. Let the shoemaker stick to his last.

STARK. Whatever is antique is stark, and whatever is stark is antique. Bear this firmly in mind when buying antiques.

WHITEWASH (ON CHURCH WALLS). Thunder against. This aesthetic anger is most becoming.

WINDMILL. Looks well in a landscape.

On Not Seeing Cézanne

go to three pipe problem

My post about Cézanne’s Still-Life with Compotier is now up at Three Pipe Problem.

Contents? Cézannes, apples, drugs, Ferris Bueller, and (if you’re feeling obliging) your very own finger. But really it’s about not seeing art.

So go there now! Or just click on the above image.