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The Cezannian Revolution
on 21 February 2013
At times I seemed to lose my way in this book. That might have been due to my lack of attention, but some sections read like little discrete essays and these sometimes seemed to derail the narrative of Cezanne's life. The section on pages 328 to 330, for example, is like a small essay on Cezanne's relationship with trees. However, this is a small criticism. As W.H. Auden observed, a shilling life will give you the facts and Alex Danchev's marvellous biography will give you far more than that. His motivation for writing the book appears to have been a burning desire to understand Cezanne's genius, and I doubt that there is a better reason for doing so. Towards the end of the book, and following a fascinating account of a meeting between two young artists and Cezanne in 1906, at the end of his life - a meeting that resulted in a remarkable series of photographs of Cezanne painting the Mont Saint-Victoire and which are reproduced in the book - he gets to the heart of the matter:
'At the core of the Cezannian revolution is a decisive shift in the emphasis of observation, from a description of the thing apprehended to the process of apprehension itself. Cezanne insisted that he painted things as they are, for what they are, as he saw them. The issue is what he saw - how he saw.'
Drawing extensively on the reactions of Cezanne's contemporaries and those who have ever since tried to understand his significance, Alex Danchev has, to my mind, written a profound and moving biography, and one that is worthy of its subject.