Saturday, October 02, 2010

Cézanne: Love the Apples


Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to Clara Westhoff
Paris Vie, 29, rue Cassette
October 13, 1907 (Sunday)

Today I went to see his pictures again; it’s remarkable what an environment they create. Without looking at a particular one, standing in the middle between the two rooms, one feels their presence drawing together into a colossal reality. As if these colors would heal one of indecision once and for all. The good conscience of these reds, these blues, their simple truthfulness, it educates you; and if you stand beneath them as acceptingly as possible, it’s as if they are doing something for you. You also notice, a little more clearly each time, how necessary it was to go beyond love, too; it’s natural after all, to love each of these things as one makes it: but if one shows this, one makes it less well; one judges it instead of saying it. One ceases to be impartial; and the very best – love – stays outside the work, does not enter it, is left aside, untranslated: that’s how the painting of sentiments came about (which is in no way better than the paintings of things). They’d paint: I love this here; instead of painting: here it is. In which case everyone must see for himself whether or not I loved it. This is not shown at all, and some would even insist that love has nothing to do with it. It’s that thoroughly exhausted in the action of making, there is no residue. It may be that this emptying out of love in anonymous work, which produces such pure things, was never achieved as completely as in the work of this old man; his inner nature, having grown mistrustful and cross, helped him to do it. He certainly would not have shown another human being his love, had he been forced to conceive such a love; but with this disposition, which was completely developed now, thanks to his strangeness and insularity, he turned to nature and knew how to swallow back his love for every apple and put it to rest in the painted apple forever. Can you imagine what that is like, and what it’s like to experience this through him?

I'll get to this letter of Rilke's in a sec.

In my early days of writing, writer and poet (also art historian and critic) Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet spoke soft and clear: Go inside yourself. That has stayed with me since those days in the early 1990s, along with William Everson’s Birth of a Poet, and many other writings that focused on a similar theme. Go inside. Go inside the subject, and go inside myself.

The Austro-German Rilke wandered across Europe much of his life, and for the decade from 1902 to 1912 or so, he lived in Paris, working on a book about the sculptor Auguste Rodin, and as his secretary for about a year of that time. Living among the Impressionist artists of the Paris Salon transformed Rilke and his poetry, filling him with a desire to "apprehend the very essence of things," eventually resulting in his "object poems". Besides Rodin, perhaps Paul Cézanne had the biggest impact on Rilke and how he viewed art and the world of artistic expression. It was Cézanne who more than any other painter was a bridge between the Impressionists of the late 19th century and the Cubists of the early 20th.

Rilke was married to sculptor Clara Westhoff (who had studied with Rodin) though they separated in less than a year, and he left her and their daughter Ruth in Worpswede, Germany to live in Paris. While he was there he wrote her letters, enough letters about Cézanne alone to fill a book. The quote that opens this post is in one of the letters. My paraphrase of that paragraph is: When Cézanne painted, he wasn’t saying in his paintings, See how I love the apples; here, love them too. He just . . . loved the apples. That love exists in the paint, in the pulsing colors, in the bold smears and layers laid on by his palette knife, as real as the apples themselves.

Love is attention. What does it take, to spend a life paying attention to apples, arranging them in countless still lifes? He even told his human subjects who sat for paintings: Be an apple.  As writers and artists, are we overly worried about production, recognition and accomplishment? What would happen if we just love the subject we are portraying? Pay attention to it so closely that we are it. How can something pure and vibrant not come of that?

I owe a debt of gratitude to Marie Howe for her recent interview in The Writer’s Chronicle (sorry, the interview is not online; it is in the hard copy May/Summer 2010 issue), which inspired this post and the rumblings of many things inside me. She said profound things about poems, among them: "What mattered to me was not a book of poems but a poem. Each poem. One poem. It was a world. You know what happens when you read a true poem. It sees you, you see it. . . . It's love, really. Recognition and love. . . . To write one poem seems to me worth living for." 

I leave you with a gallery of Cézanne's apples.

Four Apples

Apples and a Glass

Apples on a Sheet

Still Life with Plaster Cupid

Still Life with Compotier

Apples and Biscuits

Apples and Napkins

 Apples and Oranges

 Dish of Apples

Still Life

Still Life with Apples and Pears

Still Life with Apples

Still Life with Apples (2)

Still Life with Apples (3)

Still Life with Apples (4)

Still Life with Apples (5)

Still Life with Soup Tureen

Still Life with Milk Can and Apples

Rilke's letter to Clara found in Art in Theory, 1900-2000, an anthology of changing ideas, Charles Harrison, Paul Wood

All apple paintings found here

There is a beautiful article about Cézanne's impact on art, at the Smithsonian here.


Susan said...

Thank you for this beautifully written piece, Ruthie. I don't know a lot about Rilke or Cezanne, but this little teaser makes me want to know more. Cezanne certainly shows his love for the apple. My favorite one of these is 'apples and oranges'.

Claudia said...

I admire artists whose works convey a strong sense of love and personal interest in their subjects. Their art is a notch above the rest and should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace and savored to the fullest.

I'm happy to have met two such artists here in the blogging world: you and rauf.

The message in this post is so precious and necessary.

Thank you.

rauf said...

Cezanne yes Rilke no, never heard Ruth, Don't know if it is pronounced like silk, i remember only one thing about Cezanne that he was January born. and Gauguin is 1848 exactly 100 years before me. i remember only silly things Ruth. most of these impressionist artists appear with Van Gogh. one of them Cezanne or Gauguin first name Paul for both i get confused. second name sounding almost same, one of them had a big fight with Van Gogh. One thing that impressed me with these guys is the choice of their subjects. These apples are so alive Ruth, though not very perfect like the renaissance and contemporary artists like Timothy Tyler, Adrian Gittlieb (Tatiana Repast) a woman cutting apples

California Girl said...

Lovely tie in with the letter, the sculpting, painting, and turn of the century influences. Must be amazing to be exposed to such influences as were these artists. You could not help but grow.

Here's a link to an artist in Santa Barbara. He's quite good:

Ruth said...

Susie, thank you. I didn't, and still don't, know much about Rilke and Cézanne. I'm grateful for Marie Howe's interview so that I know a little bit more. Also meeting her and her work has been a real delight for me.

Yes, the Apples and Oranges painting is full of life!

Ruth said...

Claudia, my breath caught when I read your words. I agree completely about rauf. I know that my expressions here have been shaped a great deal by rauf, who came in my blog family very early. It's probably impossible to imagine my blog without also feeling rauf's presence. That you include me in your beautiful sentiment about the blog world with him touches me deeply.

Also, Claudia, I feel that my blog world has deepened and improved once again, now that you are back from your hiatus.

Ruth said...

Oh, rauf, I thought I knew how to pronounce Rilke, and I was always saying ril-keh. Then I heard Inge say it. She of course is German, so the "R" becomes some god-only-knows-what creation at the back of the roof of the mouth, that flutters a little up there. I feel embarrassed trying to pronounce his name with her now, so I avoid it at all costs. At any rate, it is two syllables.

Maybe it was Gaugin who had the fight with Van Gogh, I believe.

Yes, I am quite interested to see the contortions and misshapes of Cézanne's apples, well of the ceramic pieces around them. There is a glow of life from the apples that goes beyond accuracy, isn't there.

Ruth said...

Thanks, California Girl, I quite enjoyed reading about all this.

Thank you for the link to Paul Cumes. I see that same vibrancy as in Cézanne, and I can see why you thought of Cumes here. It's such a privilege to witness art like his, to feel the emotional response when someone loves his subjects like that. I'm so grateful for blogging, in big part for the education I am getting.

*jean* said...

i am always in awe of the comments your posts inspire...your observations of art and literature...what a gift your curiosity is...i find the apple such a significant symbol from the fall of Eden (which was more likely a love apple or pomegranate) to the health claims of eating an apple a day...great art inspires, whether it is the arrangement of words or paint...good morning, ruth, and again, thanks...i love having coffee with you

*jean* said...

and i adore your new blog romantic and beautiful

ellen abbott said...

He must have had an apple tree in his yard.

Cezanne has always been one of my favorites.

Vagabonde said...

I heard that you speak French - it is so much easier for me to write in my native language, so here we go:
Pour moi, Cézanne, c’est comme de la famille. Aimant la peinture dés mon plus jeune age, je connaissais tous ces formidables peintres français. Mais quelquefois la familiarité enlève la connaissance – on croit connaitre un artiste mais c’est une connaissance superficielle.
Je pense que Cézanne a essayé de réduire la distance entre la forme et la matière, a voulu apporter l’extérieur à l’intérieur, mais n’a jamais été content des résultats. C’est triste de penser qu’Emile Zola, qui était l’ami d’enfance de Cézanne a pu avoir dire “« Paul peut avoir le génie d'un grand peintre, il n'aura jamais le génie de le devenir. » Il savait que Cézanne n’était jamais satisfait de ses peintures.
I tried to translate this using google translate but it had too many mistakes, so if you don’t understand let me know and I’ll do the translation myself. A nice post, Ruth, so many apples….

Ruth said...

*jean*, oh thank you, I agree. This place would be next to nothing without comment responses. I really do feel this space as a salon of like minds. I could sit and talk all day with all of you. When I get the pleasure of the company of true artists, such as yourself, this is really an immense honor.

Thank you about the blog header! I will probably keep the left and right photos constant and change the middle one with the seasons. I had strawberries there for summer. The image on the left is Hopper's "Night on El Train" and on the right is a film photo I took of the Ile de la Cité from Ile St-Louis, in Paris. The center image is of our transparent apples grown here on the farm. I'm glad you like them together!

Ruth said...

Oh, and *jean*, the Hopper image is a postcard resting on The Ambassadors by Henry James. I love the etching, maybe more than almost any piece of art, for what it represents: trains, romance, relationship, closeness between human beings - that closeness that is sometimes restrained by society's boundaries, when two people want to be as close as they can possibly be. Yet we can only get so close, you know? It's impossible to truly get inside another person as we sometimes want.

Ruth said...

Ellen, I bet you're right, why didn't I think of that?

Cézanne was quite a strange person for his day. The article I linked to at the bottom of the post has Mary Cassatt describing his mannerisms, which were almost always contradictory to each other. Like hating the Paris Salon, yet submitting his work to it incessantly.

Ruth said...

my dear Vagabonde, I wonder where that malicious rumor got started! No doubt a certain sister named Ginnie . . . . (I'll get her, and how).


I do not speak French, I say ashamedly. I know just enough to walk in the door and be polite, then courteously ask if this kind person understands English . . .

So thank god for free online translators, which I have just utilized, so that I get the gist of your dear comment.

You make such a good point, that because you are so familiar with these artists, you are tempted to think you know them well, yet really it might be superficial knowledge. This has been striking me lately about so many things, which is why I wrote this post, I guess. We hear a little bit about something, and we think we understand. Even a photograph makes us think we know something (as Susan Sontag said).

You said it beautiful about l’extérieur à l’intérieur, that he wanted to bring the exterior to the interior (and vice versa, I think). And yes, how sad that his dear friend Zola, was disparaging of his achievement and talent late in life. It's one thing to be unsatisfied with one's own work (he used to paint in the fields and rip up the canvases, leaving them there to toss in the wind!), but for one whose friendship he valued to say these things, I find it quite sad. Apparently Cézanne could not take a compliment. Once he stormed off when someone (Rodin? I think it's in that Smithsonian article) paid him a very nice bit of praise at table. I wonder why this was impossible for him to receive.

Thank you, ma chere for posting your comment in your native tongue, that means a lot to me. I wish I could speak French with you, and read your words in your language, which must be so beautiful, because your English is exquisite. I admire so very much about you, my friend. Please feel free to post here in French any time, because the translator is not too bad at conveying the meaning, and I can ask you follow-up questions if I don't understand something.

George said...

I'm boarding a plane home in about five minutes and don't have time to write a thoughtful comment just now. I want you to know, however, that this appears to be a rich and exciting posting, and I look forward to reading it again later today, after which I will be back to add something further. Yes, Ruth, my friend, it's a habit that's hard to resist when one is on a site that always encourages a good conversation, the type that Lorenzo describes today as — I hope I get this right — a tertuliante por exellancia.

lakeviewer said...

A wonderful weekend trip to the museium and a chat about art and poetry and friends and "tertulia" as Lorenzo explained. I love visiting fellow bloggers. Have a lovely weekend, Ruth.

Ruth said...

George, it doesn't get much better than that, you, in an airport, on your way to the plane, stopping in my humble little salon for a quick gulp, not even taking off your jacket or setting down your umbrella, and dashing off again with a promise to come back later. I thought of you many times while affectionately working with these paintings in the middle of the night (my sleep grazing is getting out of hand), and while reading about Cézanne and Rilke these last days. You are very present in the crossroads of art and the mystical inner workings of human experience. I look forward to anything further you have to add after another read. I encourage you to read the Smithsonian article sometime (I'm guessing you would anyway), though of course you shouldn't feel obligated to before coming back into this little salon box.

Ruth said...

Lakeviewer, life is pretty great today. I feel that beautiful buzz you feel when surrounded by charming friends, old and new. Just right for this chilly, rainy day in Michigan by the woodstove, where I'm doing the ruthie and working a little, reading a little, and visiting with my blog friends a little. It feels sooo good. Didn't Lorenzo do a beautiful job - both in his interview with Bonnie, and in his tertulia post. I loved them.

Thank you, and you enjoy that lake for me. I'll enjoy my puddles. :)

Dan Gurney said...

Lovely post. I found out about you via Bonnie's interview.

I've long felt that love and attention are close neighbors. But not quite exactly the same thing. Love is attention infused with gratitude and good will.

Terresa said...

Love Rilke and Cezanne. I was introduced to Cezanne while in middle school so many years ago and will never forget how it began to change my life, how it opened my eyes, I owe it all to Mr. Harris, a teacher who was a living example of a Renaissance man.

PS: What an abundance of apples you shared with us today, divine.

ds said...

Oh, Ruth, this is a post I will come back to again and again--it's magnetic.
Love both of these artists RMR in particular. And those apples! We are having a "pie crust" day today, and I am tempted, so tempted...Would you believe that the first thing I thought of at "be the apple" was Harriet the Spy?! Harriet is in the school play; her role is to be an onion. She is told by the director that she must "be the onion," so she goes home and rolls around her bedroom...

There's serious stuff too, but it must soak...Thank you so much for this!

Shari Sunday said...

Sometimes your posts literally leave me speechless. I know this is one I will return to again. Of course I am familiar with Cézanne though I have never seen one of his paintings in person. All I can say at the moment is I really LOVE those apples. Really.

Ruth said...

Hi, and welcome, Dan. That Bonnie is a sweetheart, and I'm so pleased you found your way over from her place.

Yes, I'm sure you're right that there might be more to love than merely attention. I think of the statement especially when I want to bring my will into loving someone, or something I should take better care of. It may not come with the feelings of love always. It's making love a choice, and then usually the feelings of gratitude and good will come. So I think we agree.

Ruth said...

Terresa, I think I've heard you talk about Mr. Harris before, unless you had another extraordinary teacher who changed your life. The miracle of that gift, and your recognition of it/him, is reaching even to me all these years later, and to all who know you, I think. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Hello, DS! What were you tempted to do, I wonder? :)

Oh, I love Harriet the Spy ever since rauf told me about it. But I have only seen it once, and I don't remember that part! She is such a treasure, and I can totally see her doing that.

Thank you, I'm so glad this post meant something to you, that would bring you back again and again.

Ruth said...

Dear Shari, well thank you for those sentiments, my friend.

I wish I could cite where each of these paintings is housed. The site does not list them. It would have taken more work than I had time for to locate each one. I wonder if you have any close by you in Florida. He painted apples so prolifically, they must grow in museum orchards around the world.

Lorenzo said...

Rilke discussing Cezanne, what could be better? His thoughts and yours on the relationship between love and attention in how and what we perceive, and then depict or describe, are so rich. They seem to dovetail so nicely with your recent postings on Rumi Days, on the relationship between looking and what we are looking for. I also hear in this the echo of William Carlos Williams when he said "no ideas but in things".

By the way, I just discovered that you are recording podcasts of more of your poems. I greatly enjoyed hearing the first one, The Air Down Here, and am now happily going through (or are they going through me?) the others you have added since.

Gwei Mui said...

Ruth what an inspiring post. As I edge may way towards the edge and inpreparation for takng that jump into rehersals your post was perfect, I grew up with Cézanne copies mounte don the walls of our drawing room and was facinated by them as child. Seeng the paintngs for real happened much, much later in life. I know next to nothing about Rilke but I will be headng to Foyles once I receove my first wage packet. Once agan thanks so much for this post :)

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, thank you for making that connection between the recent Rumi posts and this one. It's funny how I hadn't consciously made that link, but those Rumi lines have been powerfully working in me, so no doubt the dovetail is no accident. WCW, your NJ poet, was one of those early influences for me, one of the very earliest in fact. So Rilke's "thing poems" definitely call to me in the same way. I have hunted online for any kind of clue about Rilke's object/thing poems, and I am not finding anything. I'll keep searching, at my university library too.

I'm glad you found the additional podcasts. I'm going to try to get through all of them here at sync eventually. When I'm in the groove, I can record two or three in a sitting. In fact they seem to flow better after I've been reading for a while. Thank you for "paying attention" to those readings.

Ruth said...

Gwei Mui, I can feel the excitement building for your production/performance. It is thrilling that you are creating such a personal expression for audiences to begin to understand your story, and that of others, as an Asian-Brit and adoptee. That this post helped you along that journey just fills me up.

George said...

Having you, Rilke, and Cezanne in the same room, a room that is full of Cezanne paintings, is an absolute delight, so much so that I am more inclined to listen and observe than to talk. I do want to comment, however, on your observation that "love is attention" and your question about whether writers and artists are too preoccupied with production, recognition, and accomplishment.

In my view, great craftsmanship can be accomplished with training, skill, and technique. Art, however, comes from a different place. Training, skill, and technique may be involved, but art requires love and the fearless expression of that love.

I also believe, as you say, that love requires attention. All too often, however, something that begins as love ends up in the service of the ego. The three things you mention — production, recognition, and accomplishment — may serve our ego, but they can inhibit the creation of art if they diminish the energy and attention that is required for the fearless expression of what one loves.

Thanks for this lovely, informative, and thought-provoking post.

Ruth said...

George, you came back, as I hoped you would. I hope your trip was fine. It feels like a great honor that you would like to listen and observe silently in this space today.

But I'm glad you also had something to say.

First, what you say about great craftsmanship is precisely how I feel about my son's guitar playing. He trained himself to play technically like Joe Satriani and others. For years we watched his fingers learn those dances. But it's been the past 5 or so years that I have witnessed him becoming the music. He is music. Music is him. I firmly believe that when a person embodies a passion like that, any training or skill informs it and supports it, of course. But without the love and infusion, it is sadly empty.

For a long time I was concerned with being published. It's hard to turn off that voice, especially when people ask with good intentions: Have you been published? They mean, kindly, that they admire your work. But it assumes that there is a goal beyond the writing itself, beyond that one poem.

And then, I wonder. Is there anything more important than just connecting? As E.M.Forster says: Just connect.

Ruth said...

Or is it only connect. Yes, I think so, without googling it. Which is another kind of connecting, to which I am addicted.

Cait O'Connor said...

A big thank you for this post as you have put such a lot of effort into it. I have the Rilke Letters book in my library (where I work) and love the book. I like the words about poems too in the Writer's mag. And Cezanne - a genius of a painter.

Gwen Buchanan said...

oh Ruth, this is all so lovely.. I'm staying here a while.

Ruth said...

Hello, Cait, you are most welcome. I can imagine you taking Rilke out to your Welsh hills with Finn. I very much enjoy reading published letters and have been reading Anaïs Nin's for a while.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Gwen. Funny, that's just how I felt in your studio today. Hugs to you, John and Max.

ds said...

Back I am, no facaetiousness this time. Rilke became very important to me at one point in my life. Over and over, those exquisite often enigmatic poems, the books you have written about here...he is, as Lorenzo says, very much like Rumi, isn't he? in his openness, his "innocence" his longing to embrace the stars (or angels). He did most definitely take into himself what he wrote about Cezanne.
And I love C's imperfect apples. That's what it's all about, isn't it?

Ruth said...

Dear DS. I'm not surprised at all that Rilke has been important to you, as he has been for me, because you ooze the kind of sensibility that draws me in that drew me to him. Innocence is a perfect word, one I don't know that I would have thought of though, but I get a feeling from him the he looked at things fresh every day, apart from society's rankings of importance. I wonder if he felt, in Paris, what I feel there, which is an intense openness, almost involuntary. I've had experiences in my few days in Paris that seem to condense all the mystical moments into short periods of time.

I was telling Inge the other day that when I recognize one of my many imperfections, I can imagine its archetypal opposite, and focus on it. I don't know if that's a Jungian concept, or James Hillman, or who, but maybe so.

Thank you for coming back, my dear friend.

Ginnie said...

I never said one word to Vagabonde about anything, Ruth, I promise. :D I think she picked up the idea of you speaking French fron...YOU?! I don't speak French either, but you certainly speak more than I do, and Astrid more than both of us put together. However, with so many French speakers at my H&S blog, I am learning to read it a lot. That's exciting for me...kinda like how I can read Dutch. :)

Anyway, all those apples! I think he treated them like those who paint their nude models. He WAS in love with them. It's so clear.

Jeanie said...

Well, with that astounding color and energy, I can certainly see why Rilke "loved the apples" and Cezanne did, too.

I fear my poetry is never very good -- though on occasion it's a "hit." But that's OK, having no pretensions when you simply like to do it for you. And yes, loving what you write (or paint, or create) is the key to doing something others will love -- or at least appreciate -- too.

Margaret Bednar said...

Adore Cezanne. I often think that photography opened the door for these painters. An exact likeness to a loved one was important prior to cameras - but that sometimes led to stiff, non-feeling copies - not expressive and heartfelt artwork. Not to mention, if they were poor, they painted what was readily available - food ... & naked women?

deb said...

this intimidates a little if I'm being honest.
very low on the learning curve of some of this stuff.

however... I know what I am drawn to ..
and it wasn't the economics and political science that I chose to study way back when.

connecting, being in love ,
looking within.

those paintings truly leave one breathless .
as have Rilke's words that I've read so far.

I think having my breath taken away is a good thing.

like visiting here...

and your comment to me btw re my photo... I completely get you. I think :).

Oliag said...

I adore each and every one of Cezanne's apple paintings on exhibit here...and the point you make of how he loved them...this must be true of Monet and his lilypads and haystacks many ways to see one thing...So many ways to read a poem...I love that quote by Marie Howe...I am savoring it....

Your posts always inspire me Ruth...I need that:)

Babs-beetle said...

Cezanne was my dads favourite impressionist. I love the impressionists, and often visited the National Galleries in London. I did a few Van Gogh reproductions and needed to see the 'Sunflowers' up close daily, in order to get the colours and depth right. Those were the days.

Arti said...

I could have gone to Cézanne's studio in Aix-en-Provence but time didn't allow. I just had to be satisfied with Van Gogh's sites. Yes, it was Gauguin whom VG threw a glass at and later the knife-weilding incident, all took place outside the Cafe Terrace. (Picture and painting in my VG post)

What you have here is so rich Ruth that I'll have to come back to reread and savour more. I love C's still life's. I did have a chance when in Avignon to see one of his painting, but not included here in your post. It's "Nature morte au pot de gres", still life of stonewares and fruits. I too love C's apples. Your very first one posted here shows the essence of what art is all about I feel. Beautiful and 'simple' renderings of everyday objects.