Monday, May 31, 2010

The Salvador Takes on St. Paul

There are actually times when Salvador Dalí's statements should be taken seriously. More accurately, taken as intended to be serious.

Such, I believe, is his take on Paul Cézanne, a painter taken in great seriousness by art historians as well as modernist painters in his own time and thereafter.

The safe stance for Dalí would have been to go along with the crowd. But then, Dalí thrived on controversy and grandstanding, which is why it can be tricky trying to separate outrageous statements from those that truly reflected his mind.

However, Dalí went after Cézanne on more than one occasion, which is why I'm inclined to think he really had it in for Aix-en-Provence's alternate claim to fame besides the Cours Mirabeau.

For instance, on pages 51 and 53 of the Dover edition of Dalí on Modern Art, he states:

Paul Cézanne -- one of the most marvelously reactionary painters of all time -- was also one of the most "imperialistic," since he wanted to redo Poussin "from nature".... It is unfortunate that his Apollonian impulse was betrayed by his fatal clumsiness. His awkwardness can be compared only to the delirious virtuosity of Velasquez. It should have been Velasquez who, like Bonaparte, poured the anarchy of orgiac painting into the Caesarian empire of forms, adding that notion of discontinuous nature that Poussin lacked.

But, however touching it may be, never did Cézanne succeed in painting a single round apple capable of holding -- monarchically -- the five regular [geometrical] bodies within its absolute volume.

The dithyrambic critics, completely in line with the mediocrity of Cézannian paintings, were only able to set up as categorical imperatives the catastrophic deficiencies, clumsinesses and awkwardnesses of the master. Before this total rout of means of expression it was believed that a step had been taken toward the liberation of pictorial technique.

And on pages 15-16 of his 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship [Dover, again], he says:

"Post -Cézannism" has erected into a system every one of the clumsinesses and deficiencies of Cézanne and painted square mile after square mile of canvasses with these defects. The defects of Cézanne, in his fundamentally honest character, were often consequences of his very virtues; but defects are never virtues! I can imagine the profound melancholy of the master of Aix-en-Provence, Paul Cézanne, when after having struggled so long to build a well-constructed apple on his canvas, possessed like a demon by the problem of relief, he had succeeded on the contrary only in painting it concave! And instead of keeping, as was his ambition, the "intact continuity" of the surface of his canvas, without making any concession to the illusory friviolities of verisimilitude, he finds himself in the end with a canvas frightfully lacking in consistency and filled with holes! With each new apple there is a new hole! Which, as the immortal Michel de Montaigne said in another connection, "chier dans le panier et se le mettre sur la tête."

I never understood Cézanne and so take some comfort that my position is supported, even if by somewhat odd company.

[Cross-posted at 2Blowhards.]

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