KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 10: Fall 2018
Ekphrastic
Tanka Prose:
 
640 words

Paul Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire and Hamlet Near Gardanne 1886–90

by Charles D. Tarlton
 

Mont Sainte-Victoire and Hamlet Near Gardanne 1886-90: painting by Paul Cézanne

Cubism has taken a giant step in the direction of abstraction, and is in this respect of its own time and of the future. Thus in its content it is not modern, but in its effect it is.

—Piet Mondrian[2]

1

The older village houses of southern France were rectangular and seldom ornamented. Clustered together, with their pastel colored plaster walls and red-tile roofs, there were few differences among them. Farms in the American Midwest were laid out from the start on a township grid six miles by six miles, which was further divided into thirty-six one-mile “sections.” The section was further divided into the more popular 160-acre “quarter section” farms. As farmers lived on their land, they were scattered and far apart on the country roads, each responsible for their own house. Towns grew up where there were lots of farms, but the town residents were, by and large, not farmers. The French farmers always lived in the central village, a hub from which parcels of farm land radiated. It was a good deal more social.

it looks pretty much
how a Provençal village
looks, intersecting
planes of red tile and ocher walls
a geometry lesson

solid geometry
depicting spheres, prisms, cubes
on a flat surface
depth a matter of angles
are sometimes overlapping

the stone in the walls
keep it cool inside. Shadows
of one building fell
across the bedroom windows
of another like evening

2

The Mediterranean village was at the heart of Cubism; everyone painted at least one cubist village—Braque, Picasso, Matisse, Léger, Gris, Metzinger, and Le Fauconnier. The village was a single object with multiple plane surfaces, the pictorial arrangement of which depended on where you were standing (or pretending to stand). These cubists taught a lesson in “perspective”; they tore houses town and reassembled them so you could see the side and top at the same time. They saw with a fly’s eye, in all directions. It’s as if you had already walked the village streets in Cézanne’s town, and you were now remembering everything you’d seen, but remembering it all at once and remembering all the time that it was paint on a flat canvas surface.

on the Autoroute A-8
traveling across Bouche-du-Rhone
you get a long view
of the Mont Sainte-Victoire
everyone’s talking about

Paul Cézanne and how
they went through his atelier
and saw the statue
(he painted in Still Life
and Statuette
) with no arms

nor any one place
to visualize, the mountain
as I remember
was so white in the sunlight
distant and oblivious

3

Mont Sainte-Victoire was the subject of at least thirty-five Cézanne oil paintings and more watercolors than we can count. His obsession was to express the intersection of the mountain and our emotions, to capture both in a well-wrought canvas. For Cézanne, the inward thought and feeling of the artist sought their embodiment in a Nature dragged into and onto the canvas. The subjects, the mountain and the village, were brought beyond themselves, made Art by a mix of duty and will, the obligation to be true and the necessity to embody the artist. The town and the mountain were brought to the limen of abstraction; they were flattened onto the canvas and we realize that the painter has given up trying to fool our eyes.... Look at those houses! You will see them later in the landscapes of the great Cubists.

in 1967
we alighted from a bus
on the little road
above the Costa del Sol
town of La Herradura

narrow cobblestone
streets tumbled down to the beach
perfectly cubic
stacked-up casas plastered white
look like crystals in moonlight

on the beach wedding
dancers spun round and round
the light from a fire
illuminated surfaces
the flat of their cheeks, their brows

 

 

Publisher’s Notes:

1. Paul Cezanne’s original oil-on-canvas painting, Mont Sainte-Victoire and Hamlet Near Gardanne 1886–90, resides in the White House, Washington, DC; it was bequeathed in 1928 to the President of the United States by Charles A. Loeser. The reproduction above was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons under United States public-domain license (PD-1923).

2. Epigraph is from Piet Mondrian’s letter of 29 January 1914 to H. P. Bremmer (Dutch art critic and buyer of Mondrian’s paintings), as quoted on page 75 of Mondrian: The Art of Destruction by Carel Blotkamp (Reaktion Books, 2001).


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