This section is from the book "Is It Art? Post-Impressionism. Futurism. Cubism.", by J. Nilsen Laurvik.
CÚzanne was not alone a primitive at heart; he was a realist of the ultimate type. He reduced reality to its lowest denominator and in him realism achieved its culmination. His extraordinary eyes saw things as they actually are - not as we believe them to be from long-associated ideas of roundness or flatness acquired through contact, and therefore there is something of the grotesqueness of stark truth in all his work. Its uncompromising verity appeals and repels, very much as does the naturalism of Zola. His still-life studies are the most concrete demonstration of this. Apparently distorted wilfully with the intent to astonish, they are as true to the actual appearance of things as a camera lens could make them.
No one so closely analyzed the play of light on surfaces and its effect on form as did CÚzanne, and no one before him had the hardihood to put down what he saw with the same unflinching, literal-minded adherence to facts. When one remembers that, as far as form is concerned, most people see with their fingers instead of with their eyes it is not very difficult to perceive the reason for the universal misunderstanding that has grown up around his work.
For it is a fact well known to scientists that the conception of form is more largely dependent on the sense of touch than of sight and that a sphere, for example, appears flat to one who has not touched it. Therefore the idea of solidity and roundness thus gained by contact in early life is so elemental and pervasive as to remain a fixed and arbitrary criterion to which all and sundry conceptions of roundness conform involuntarily in the mind of the uncritical spectator. Only a very few persons can disassociate the appearance of things from the knowledge of their form and structure acquired through their sense of touch.
This differentiation of form has been for many ages the special province of the artist; he has noted the divergencies that distinguish the apple from the sphere, that give it its special and unique character as compared with an orange, for instance. In his researches into the true nature of form the artist has become ever more exacting in his endeavor to dis cover the most significant and expressive form: the one, in other words, that should most nearly approach the ultimate truth.
The whole progress of art is traced in this evolution of form, culminating, as far as realism is concerned, in CÚzanne who got down to the bone of the matter in his final emphasis on the sub-structure of form. To him a sphere was not always round, a cube always square or an ellipse always elliptical. Thus the traditional oval of the conventional face disappeared in his portraits, the generally accepted round surfaces of a vase or bowl was represented as flat and dented in spots and the horizontal stability of the horizon was rendered elliptical whenever it so appeared to him.
The general truthfulness of his observations may readily be tested by any one of normal vision who will carefully observe the actual appearance of the surfaces of a round sugar bowl, for example, when placed in the light of a window. It will be found that certain planes are as flat as the table, that others present the appearance of dents and hollows, and the more clearly this is perceived the more grotesque will the object appear as compared with the preconceived image of it established in our minds by the unconscious interaction of the sense of touch and sight.
We know that scientifically regarded there is no such thing as a round surface, that what appears to to be such is simply the closely adjusted juxtaposition of infinitesimal planes that are each perfectly flat. And the very fact that painters refer to the surface of a figure as planes is indicative of a partial recognition of this basic characteristic of structure. Nevertheless both artists and laymen persist in speaking of the roundness of a torso, for example, when in reality, if we could disassociate the sense of round ness from the appearance of roundness as did CÚzanne, we would find large surfaces of spheroids quite flat. Therein lies the real secret of the art of Cezanne who is the first of realists.
This principle he developed and applied consistently in all its ramifications to the representation of form, which he worshipped with the fanatical zest of one intent on discovering the inherent truth in matter. But he only exposed its inner shell through which the real spirit of things struggles in vain to manifest itself.
He remained a literalist true to his abnormal, or shall we say excessively normal, sense of actuality. That is the quality of his art that at once attracts and repels. It lacks imagination; it is coldly geometrical, mathematically precise, and hence rigorously truthful in the sense that two and two make four. His still life pieces, his landscapes, his portraits have something of the intense and startling reality of naked truth. Whether painting a vegetable or a human being the one is treated with the same whole-souled absorption as the other.
CÚzanne gave form concrete value, supplementing and correcting the researches of Monet into the nature of light and color. He was intent on conveying the depth, volume, and the bulk and mass of the universe that makes of it a tangible reality as opposed to the Whistlerian veil of mystery, tenuous, gauze-like and unreal that made of objects in the natural world a mere blur of pleasant color.
Thus his pictures became designs of closely organized planes, plastically treated, in which the color is an integral factor instead of being the pre-eminent or merely an incidental factor. In fact color was the basis of his design as he remarked in a letter to Emile Bernard, "Design and color are in nowise distinct; in proportion that one paints, one designs; the more the color is harmonized, the more precisely is the design rendered.'' And he adds, "When the color reaches richness, form attains its fullness (plentitude). Contrasts and relations of tone - there is the secret of design and modelling." Hence his color approaches monochrome in which his practice coincides with the theory promulgated before him by Goya who was fond of saying that in nature color does not exist, everything is light and shade.