Saturday, November 13

Cézanne's Cloth

The Black Clock by Paul Cezanne

The Black Clock by Paul Cézanne
Private Collection (Stavros Niarchos)

His still lifes are so wonderfully occupied with themselves. The frequently used white cloth, for one, which has a peculiar way of soaking up the predominant local color, and the things placed upon it now adding their statements and comments, each with its whole heart. The use of white as a color was natural to him from the start: together with black, it defined the two limits of his wide-open palette, and in the very beautiful ensemble of a black stone mantelpiece with a pendulum clock, black and white (the latter in a cloth that covers part of the mantel and hangs over its edge) behave perfectly colorlike next to the other colors, their equal in every way, as if long acclimatized ... Brightly confronting each other on the white cloth are a coffee cup with a heavy dark-blue stripe on the edge, a fresh, ripe lemon, a cut crystal chalice with a sharply scalloped edge, and, way over on the left, a large, baroque triton shell -- eccentric and singular in appearance, with its smooth, red orifice facing the front. Its inward carmine bulging out into brightness provokes the wall behind it to a kind of thunderstorm blue, which is then repeated, more deeply and spaciously, by the adjoining gold-framed mantelpiece mirror; here, in the mirror image, it again meets with a contradiction: the milky rose of a glass vase which, standing on the black pendulum clock, asserts its contrast twice (first in reality, then, a little more yieldingly, in reflection). Space and mirror-space are definitively indicated and distinguished -- musically, as it were -- by this double stroke; the picture contains them the way a basket contains fruit and leaves: as if all this were just as easy to grasp and to give. But there's still some other object on the bare mantelpiece, pushed up against the white cloth: I'd like to go back to the picture to see what it was.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke Letter to Clara Rilke 14 October 1907
Translated by Joel Agee