Paul Cezanne 1839-1906 BACK

Pastoral (Idyll)
oil on canvas 65x81cm
Musee d'Orsay

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Before acquiring the neutral title Pastoral, this work was referred to in various ways-Picnic at the Seaside, from 1899, then Plein-Air Scene, Don Quixote on the Barbary Shore, and Idyll'-which underscores the perplexity of its would-be interpreters.' On one point, however, there has been universal agreement: its ties to Manet and Le Dijeuner sur l'herbe. In 1870, seven years after Manet's picture had created such a scandal at the Salon des Refuses, Cezanne revisited it, just as he was to do with Manet's notorious courtesan of the 1865 Salon in his two versions of A Modern Olympia. Both paintings pair clothed men with nude women and combine old references with contemporary ones; even so, while Cezanne's reworkings avow their debt to Manet, they stress their differences with equal emphasis. The scenes conceived by the younger artist are profuse and copious, while their prototypes are economical and might even seem dry. Manet's mediocre copsewood with its improbable, shallow pool has been replaced in the Cezanne by a "primordial" nature redolent of Arcadia or the Venusberg, with large trees, slippery ground, and a deep lake. Manet's suburban foursome has given way to an embarkation for Cythera, his pointed commentary on contemporary social mores to autobiographical revery. For Cezanne has inserted himself into the scene: it is he whom we see reclining in a meditative pose in the center of this "supernatural eclogue."' He shows himself in the guise of a merciful and disabused Sardanapalus, who remains reflective and resolutely indifferent to the tempting female bathers, while his commonplace companions drink, crouch in the grass, or puff on their pipes.

The eagerness of recent scholars to identify Cezanne's sources has led to Baudelaireanan and Wagnerian readings of the picture. As early as 1936, Michel Florisoone connected this "canvas of somber irony"' to the poetic universe of the Fleurs du mal, where Cythera figures as an "island sad and black ... the banal El Dorado of worn-out roues" where "damned women," "like pensive cattle lying on the sand, ... scan the far horizon of the ocean." More recently, Lawrence Gowing and Mary Tompkins Lewis have seen in it a variation on the bacchanale from Tannhduser, like Fantin-Latour's painting for the Salon of 1864 . Baudelaire and Wagner were much discussed in artistic circles at this time, and they may well have played a role in the genesis of this canvas, although, if so, they were not as crucial to its inception as Manet. But, like The Murder and The Feast , Pastoral is above all a Cezannean phantasm. The nude women, immense and corpulent-who, unlike Manet's courtesan, have not just shed their contemporary clothing-seem to have issued forth from the imagination of the man in black as though it were for his benefit that they strike the timeworn poses of nymphs, Venus, and Antiope, and as a result, come across more as beautiful objects for the painter's brush than as compliant confederates in some rustic escapade. Like them, the nature evoked here is turbid and slow, the large trees reduced to cottony tufts reflected in the still water. There's not the slightest breeze, no hint of sound, and it is difficult to say how the solitary navigator will get to his Cythera, for the sail of his skiff is a sadly dangling affair. We are no longer in the sheer, realist world of Le Dijeuner sur l'herbe but rather in one that looks forward to the paintings of Bathers to come, in which, to paraphrase Degas, the air that circulates is no longer the same air we breathe.

excerpt from

by Isabelle Cahn, Henri Loyrette, Joseph J. Rishel

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