Cézanne’s Watercolors

I have always found Cézanne’s watercolors a puzzle, which is why I don’t tire of them. But just today I think I’ve found a way to see them and to make them useful. Some of them are complete images in which all the elements are not painted—hence elegant, delicate and supremely artful. Any view of Mont Ste. Victoire would fall into this category.


Paul Cézanne, Mont Ste. Victoire, 1885-88

Others do something a lot more interesting, something that may include the first possibility—they gesture toward what I have been calling “unboundedness.”


Paul Cézanne, Study, 1885-90

Unbounded space can infiltrate into the gaps of the “unfinished” image to make a sublime wholeness that has no limits. I think that diagonals help the space to expand off the edges of the picture, and orthogonals tend to lock it into place. Cézanne’s works often suggest the beginnings of a grid. Whether it is slightly tilted, as in this example, or perpendicular to the bottom edge, doesn’t really matter, the image is always striking.


Paul Cézanne, A tree, c. 1900

This last image has a lot to offer: there is an unbounded context and an unfinished image; the space flexes slightly in places—emptiness becomes solid and solid empty, so cubism is hovering just ahead (Critical Shibboleths). In these works I actually prefer a grid, or a suggestion of one; it’s kind of like the ocean running through the mesh of Marisa Merz’s Scarpette.

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One Response to Cézanne’s Watercolors

  1. Jacob says:

    Heres an interesting article on the reason why these images are so pleasing.


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