Rilke on Cezanne


Recently on the lafpi blogs, there was some quoting of Rainer Maria Rilke. I wanted to add my two cents to the Rilke love.

My favorite Rilke book is Letters on Cezanne, a collection of letters to his wife on the painter Paul Cezanne. Nearly every day in the fall of 1907, Rilke went to a Paris gallery to view a Cezanne exhibition. In his letters, Rilke embraces the paintings not only as a critic but as a fellow artist. His insights on an artist’s life and work are both accurate and exhilarating.

I’m handing over the rest of this post to Rilke. I highly recommend the Joel Agee translation which this quote comes from:

Cezanne lays his apples on bed covers which Mdm. Bremond will surely miss some day, and places a wine bottle among them or whatever he happens to find. And makes his “saints” out of such things; and forces them—forces them to be beautiful, to stand for the whole world and all joy and all glory, and doesn’t know whether he has persuaded them to do it for him. And sits in the garden like an old dog, the dogs of this work that is calling him again and that beats him and lets him go hungry. And yet he’s attached with his whole being to this incomprehensible master who only lets him return to the good Lord on Sundays, as if to his original owner, for awhile. . .

 I wanted to tell you about all this, because it connects in a hundred places with a great deal that surrounds us, and with ourselves.

 It’s still raining extravagantly outside. Fare well. . .tomorrow I’ll speak of myself again. But you know how much of myself was in what I told you today. . .

 (from Letters on Cezanne by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Joel Agee, 1985, Farrar Straus and Giroux)

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