After prolonged study of the art shown at the Paris Autumn Salon you ask yourself: This whirlpool of jostling ambitions, crazy colours, still crazier drawing and composition whither does it tend? Is there any strain of tendency, any central current to be detected? Is it young genius in the raw, awaiting the sunshine of success to ripen its somewhat terrifying gifts? Or is the exhibition a huge, mystifying blague? What, you ask, as you apply wet compresses to your weary eyeballs, blistered by dangerous proximity to so many blazing canvases, does the Autumn Salon mean to French art?
There are many canvases the subjects of which are more pathologic than artistic, subjects only fit for the confessional or the privacy of the clinic. But, apart from these disagreeable episodes, the main note of the Salon is a riotous energy, the noisy ebullition of a gang of students let loose in the halls of art. They seem to rush by you, yelling from sheer delight in their lung power, and if you are rudely jostled to the wall, your toes trod upon and your hat clapped down on your ears, you console yourself with the timid phrase: Youth must have its fling.
And what a fling! Largely a flinging of paint pots in the sacred features of tradition. It needs little effort of the imagination to see hovering about the galleries the faces of — no, not Gérôme, Bonnat, Jules Lefèvre, Cabanel, or any of the reverend seigneurs of the old Salon but the reproachful countenances of Courbet, Manet, Degas, and Monet; for this motley-wearing crew of youngsters are as violently radical, as violently secessionistic, as were their immediate forebears. Each chap has started a little revolution of his own, and takes no heed of the very men from whom he steals his thunder, now sadly hollow in the transposition. The pretty classic notion of the torch of artistic tradition gently burning as it is passed on from generation to generation receives a shock when confronted by the methods of the hopeful young anarchs of the Grand Palais. Defiance of all critical canons at any cost is their shibboleth. Compared to their fulgurant colour schemes the work of Manet, Monet, and Degas pales and re-treats into the Pantheon of the past. They are become classic. Another king has usurped their throne – his name is Paul Cézanne.
No need now to recapitulate the story of the New Salon and the defection from it of these Independents. It is a fashion to revolt in Paris, and no doubt some day there will arise a new group that will start the August Salon or the January Salon.
“Independent of the Independents” is a magnificent motto with which to assault any intrenched organisation.
If riotous energy is, as I have said, the chief note of many of these hot, hasty, and often clever pictures, it must be sadly stated that of genuine originality there are few traces. To the very masters they pretend to revile they owe everything. In vain one looks for a tradition older than Courbet; a few have attempted to stammer in the suave speech of Corot and the men of Fontainebleau; but 1863, the year of the Salon des Refusés, is really the year of their artistic ancestor’s birth. The classicism of Lebrun, David, Ingres, Prudhon; the romanticism of Géricault, Delacroix, Decamps; the tender poetry of those true Waldmenschen, Millet, Dupré, Diaz, Daubigny, or of that wild heir of Giorgione and Tiepolo, the marvellous colour virtuoso who “painted music,” Monticelli all these men might never have been born except for their possible impact upon the so-called “Batignolles” school Alas! such ingratitude must rankle. To see the major portion of this band of young painters, with talent in plenty, occupying itself in a frantic burlesque of second-hand Cézannes, with here and there a shallow Monet, a faded Renoir, an affected Degas,or an impertinent Gauguin, must be mortifying to the older men.
And now we reach the holy precincts. If ardent youths sneered at the lyric ecstasy of Re noir, at the severe restraint of Chavannes, at the poetic mystery of Carrière, their lips were hushed as they tiptoed into the Salle Cézanne. Sacred ground, indeed, we trod as we gazed and wondered before these crude, violent, sincere, ugly, and bizarre canvases. Here was the very hub of the Independents universe. Here the results of a hard-labouring painter, without taste, without the faculty of selection, without vision, culture one is tempted to add, intellect who with dogged persistency has painted in the face of mockery, painted portraits, landscapes, flowers, houses, figures, painted everything, painted himself. And what paint! Stubborn, with an instinctive hatred of academic poses, of the atmosphere of the studio, of the hired model, of “literary,” or of mere digital cleverness, Cézanne has dropped out of his scheme harmony, melody, beauty classic, romantic, symbolic, what you will! and doggedly represented the ugliness of things. But there is a brutal strength, a tang of the soil that is bitter, and also strangely invigorating, after the false, perfumed boudoir art of so many of his contemporaries.
Think of Bouguereau and you have his antithesis in Cézanne Cézanne whose stark figures of bathers, male and female, evoke a shuddering sense of the bestial. Not that there is offence intended in his badly huddled nudes; he only delineates in simple, naked fashion the horrors of some undressed humans. His landscapes are primitive though suffused by perceptible atmosphere; while the rough architecture, shambling figures, harsh colouring do not quite destroy the impression of general vitality. You could not say with Walt Whitman that his stunted trees were “uttering joyous leaves of dark green.” They utter, if anything, raucous oaths, as seemingly do the self-portraits exceedingly well modelled, however. Cézanne’s still-life attracts by its wholesouled absorption; these fruits and vegetables really savour of the earth. Chardin interprets still-life with realistic beauty; if he had ever painted an onion it would have revealed a certain grace. When Paul Cézanne paints an onion you smell it. Nevertheless, he has captured the affections of the rebels and is their god. And next season it maybe some one else.
It may interest readers of Zola’s L’OEuvre to learn about one of the characters, who perforce sat for his portrait in that clever novel (a direct imitation of Goncourt’s Manette Salomon). Paul Cézanne bitterly resented the liberty taken by his old school friend Zola. They both hailed from Aix, in Provence. Zola went up to Paris; Cézanne remained in his birthplace but finally persuaded his father to let him study art at the capital. His father was both rich and wise, for he settled a small allowance on Paul, who, poor chap, as he said, would never earn a franc from his paintings. This prediction was nearly verified. Cézanne was almost laughed off the artistic map of Paris. Manet they could stand, even Claude Monet; but Cézanne communard and anarchist he must be (so said the wise ones in official circles), for he was such a villainous painter! Cézanne died, but not before his apotheosis by the new crowd of the Autumn Salon. We are told by admirers of Zola how much he did for his neglected and struggling fellow-townsman; how the novelist opened his arms to Cézanne. Cézanne says quite the contrary. In the first place he had more money than Zola when they started, and Zola, after he had become a celebrity, was a great man and very haughty.
“A mediocre intelligence and a detestable friend” is the way the prototype of Claude Lantier puts the case. “A bad book and a completely false one,” he added, when speaking to the painter Emile Bernard on the disagreeable theme. Naturally Zola did not pose his old friend for the entire figure of the crazy impressionist, his hero, Claude. It was a study composed of Cézanne, Bazille, and one other, a poor, wretched lad who had been employed to clean Manet’s studio, entertained artistic ambitions, but hanged himself. The conversations Cézanne had with Zola, his extreme theories of light, are all in the novel by the way, one of Zola’s most finished efforts. Cézanne, an honest, hard-working man, bourgeois in habits if not by temperament, was grievously wounded by the treachery of Zola; and he did not fail to denounce this treachery to Bernard.
Paul Cézanne was born January 19, 1839. His father was a rich bourgeois, and while he was dis-appointed when his son refused to prosecute further his law studies, he, being a sensible parent and justly estimating Paul’s steadiness of character, allowed him to go to Paris in 1862, giving him an income of a hundred and fifty francs a month, which was shortly after doubled. With sixty dollars a month an art student of twenty-three could, in those days, live comfortably, study at leisure, and see the world. Cézanne from the start was in earnest. Instinctively he realised that for him was not the rapid ascent of the rocky path that leads to Parnassus. He mistrusted his own talent, though not his powers of application. At first he frequented the Académie Suisse, where he encountered as fellow-workers Pissarro and Guillaumin. He soon transferred his easel to the Beaux-Arts and became an admirer of Delacroix and Courbet. It seems strange in the presence of a Cézanne picture to realise that he, too, suffered his little term of lyric madness and wrestled with huge mythologic themes giant men carrying off monstrous women. Connoisseurs at the sale of Zola’s art treasures were astonished by the sight of a canvas signed Cézanne, the subject of which was L’Enlèvement, a romantic subject, not lacking in the spirit of Delacroix. The Courbet influence persisted, despite the development of the younger painter in other schools. Cézanne can claim Courbet and the Dutchmen as artistic ancestors.
When Cézanne arrived in Paris the first comrade to greet him was Zola. The pair became inseparable; they fought for naturalism, and it was to Cézanne that Zola dedicated his Salons which are now to be found in a volume of essays on art and literature bearing the soothing title of Mes Haines. Zola, pitching overboard many friends, wrote his famous eulogy of Manet in the Evenement, and the row he raised was so fierce that he was forced to resign as art critic from that journal. The fight then began in earnest. The story is a thrice-told one. It may be read in Théodore Duret’s study of Manet and, as regards Cézanne, in the same critic’s volume on Impressionism. Cézanne exhibited in 1874 with Manet and the rest at the impressionists’ salon, held at the studio of Nadar the photographer. He had earlier submitted at once to Manet’s magic method of painting, but in 1873, at Auvers-sur-Oise, he began painting in the plein air style and with certain modifications adhered to that manner until the time of his death. The amazing part of it all is that he produced for more than thirty years and seldom sold a canvas, seldom exhibited. His solitary appearance at an official salon was in 1882, and he would not have succeeded then if it had not been for his friend Guillaumin, a member Of the selecting jury, who claimed his rights and passed in, amid execrations, both mock and real, a portrait by Cézanne.
Called a communard in 1874, Cézanne was saluted with the title of anarchist in 19o4, when his vogue had begun, these titles being a species of official nomenclature for all rebels. Thiers, once President of the French Republic, made a bon mot when he exclaimed: “A Romanticthat is to say, Communist!” During his entire career this mild, reserved gentleman from Aix came under the ban of the critics and the authorities, for he had shouldered his musket in 1871, as did Manet, as did Bazille, who, like Henri Regnault, was killed in a skirmish.
His most virulent enemies were forced to admit that Edouard Manet had a certain facility with the brush; his quality and beauty of sheer paint could not be winked away even by Albert Wolff. But to Cézanne there was no quarter shown. He was called the “Ape of Manet”, he was hissed, cursed, abused; his canvases were spat upon, and as late as 1902, when M. Roujon, the Director of the Beaux-Arts, was asked by Octave Mirbeau to decorate Cézanne, he nearly fainted from astonishment. Cézanne! That barbarian! The amiable director suggested instead the name of Claude Monet. Time had enjoyed its little whirligig with that great painter of vibrating light and water, but Monet blandly refused the long-protracted honour. Another anecdote is related by M. Duet. William II of Germany in 1899 wished to examine with his own eyes, trained by the black, muddy painting of Germany, the canvases of Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Cézanne, and Manet, acquired by Director Tschudi for the Berlin National Gallery. He saw them all except the Cézanne. Herr Tschudi feared that the Parisian fat would be in the imperial fire if the Cézanne picture appeared. So he hid it. As it was his Majesty nodded in emphatic disapproval of the imported purchases. If he had viewed the Cézanne!
At first blush, for those whose schooling has been academic, the Cézanne productions are shocking. Yet his is a personal vision, though a heavy one. He has not a facile brush; he is not a great painter; he lacks imagination, invention, fantasy; but his palette is his own. He is a master of gray tones, and his scale is, as Duret justly observes, a very intense one. He avoids the anecdote, historic or domestic. He detests design, pre-arranged composition. His studio is an open field, light the chief actor of his palette. He is never conventionally decorative unless you can call his own particular scheme decorative. He paints what he sees without flattery, without flinching from any ugliness. Compared with him Courbet is as sensuous as Correggio. He does not seek for the correspondences of light with surrounding objects or the atmosphere in which Eugène Carrière bathes his portraits, Rodin his marbles. The Cézanne picture does not modulate, does not flow; is too often hard, though always veracious Cézannish veracity, be it understood. But it is an inescapable veracity. There is, too, great vitality and a peculiar reserved passion, like that of a Delacroix h rebours, and in his still-life he is as great even as Manet.
His landscapes are real, though without the subtle poetry of Corot or the blazing Iyricism of Monet. He hails directly from the Dutch: Van der Neer, in his night pieces. Yet no Dutch-man ever painted so uncompromisingly, so dose to the border line that divides the rigid definitions of old-fashioned photography the “new” photography hugs closely the mellow mezzotint and the vision of the painter. An eye — nothing more, is Cézanne. He refuses to see in nature either a symbol or a sermon. Withal his landscapes are poignant in their reality. They are like the grillage one notes in ancient French country houses little casemates cut in the windows through which you may see in vivid outline a little section of the landscape. Cézanne marvellously renders certain surfaces, china, fruit, tapestry.
Slowly grew his fame as a sober, sincere, un-affected workman of art. Disciples rallied around him. He accepted changing fortunes with his accustomed equanimity. Maurice Denis painted for the Champ de Mars Salon of 19o1 a picture entitled Hommage Cézanne, after the well-known hommages of Fantin-Latour. This horn mage had its uses. The disciples became a swelling, noisy chorus, and in 1904 the Cézanne room was thronged by overheated enthusiasts who would have offered violence to the first critical dissident. The older men, the followers of Monet, Manet, Degas, and Whistler, talked as if the end of the world had arrived. Art is a serious affair in Paris. However, after Cézanne appeared the paintings of that half-crazy, unlucky genius, Vincent van Gogh, and of the gifted, brutal Gauguin. And in the face of such offerings C& Cézanne may yet, by reason of his moderation, achieve the unhappy fate of becoming a classic. He is certainly as far removed from Van Gogh and Gauguin on the one side as he is from Manet and Courbet on the other. Huysmans does not hesitate to assert that Cézanne contributed more to accelerate the impressionist movement than Manet. Paul Cézanne died in Aix, in Provence, October 23, 1906.
Emile Bernard, an admirer, a quasi-pupil of Cézanne’s and a painter of established reputation, discoursed at length in the Mercure de France upon the methods and the man. His anecdotes are interesting. Without the genius of Flaubert, Cézanne had something of the great novelist’s abhorrence of life fear would be a better word. He voluntarily left Paris to immure himself in his native town of Aix, there to work out in peace Iong-planned projects, which would, he believed, revolutionise the technique of painting. Whether for good or evil, his influence on the younger men in Paris has been powerful, though it is now on the wane. How far they have gone astray in imitating him is the most significant thing related by Emile Bernard, a friend of Paul Gauguin and a member of his Pont-Aven school.
In February, 1904, Bernard landed in Marseilles after a trip to the Orient. A chance word told him that there had been installed an electric tram-way between Marseilles and Aix. Instantly the name of Cézanne came to his memory; he had known for some years that the old painter was in Aix. He resolved to visit him, and fearing a doubtful reception he carried with him a pamphlet he had written in 1889, an eulogium of the painter. On the way he asked his fellow-travellers for Cézanne’s address, but in vain; the name was unknown. In Aix he met with little success.
Evidently the fame of the recluse had not reached his birthplace. At last Bernard was advised to go to the Mayor’s office, where he would find an electoral list. Among the voters he discovered a Paul Cézanne, who was born January 19, 1839, who lived at 25 Rue Boulegon. Bernard lost no time and reached a simple dwelling house with the name of the painter on the door. He rang. The door opened. He entered and mounted a staircase. Ahead of him, slowly toiling upward, was an old man in a cloak and carrying a portfolio. It was Cézanne. After he had explained the reason for his visit, the old painter cried: “You are Emile Bernard! You are a maker of biographies! Signac ” an impressionist “told me of you. You are also a painter?” Bernard, who had been painting for years, and was a friend of Signac, was nonplussed at his sudden literary reputation, but he explained the matter to Cézanne, who, how-ever, was in doubt until he saw later the work of his admirer.
He had another atelier a short distance from the town; he called it “The Motive.” There, facing Mount Sainte-Victoire, he painted every afternoon in the open; the majority of his later landscapes were inspired by the views in that charming valley. Bernard was so glad to meet Cézanne that he moved to Aix.
In Cézanne’s studio at Aix Bernard encountered some extraordinary studies in flower painting and three death heads; also monstrous nudes, giant-like women whose flesh appeared parboiled. On the streets Cézanne was always annoyed by boys or beggars; the former were attracted by his bohemian exterior and to express their admiration shouted at him or else threw stones; the beggars knew their man to be easy and were rewarded by small coin. Although Cézanne lived like a bachelor, his surviving sister saw that his household was comfortable. His wife and son lived in Paris and often visited him. He was rich; his father, a successful banker at Aix, had left him plenty of money; but a fanatic on the subject of art, ceaselessly searching for new tonal combinations, he preferred a hermit’s existence. In Aix he was considered eccentric though harmless. His pride was doubled by a morbid shyness. Strangers he avoided. So sensitive was he that once when he stumbled over a rock Bernard attempted to help him by seizing his arm. A terrible scene ensued. The painter, livid with fright, cursed the unhappy young Parisian and finally ran away. An explanation came when the housekeeper told Bernard that her master was a little peculiar. Early in life he had been kicked by some rascal and ever afterward was nervous. He was very irritable and not in good health.
In Bernard’s presence he threw a bust made of him by Solari to the ground, smashing it. It didn’t please him. In argument he lost his temper, though he recovered it rapidly. Zola’s name was anathema. He said that Daumier drank too much; hence his failure to attain veritable greatness. Cézanne worked from six to ten or eleven in the morning at his atelier; then he break fasted, repaired to the “Motive,” there to remain until five in the evening. Returning to Aix, he dined and retired immediately. And he had kept up this life of toil and abnegation for years. He compared himself to Balzac’s Frenhofer (in The Unknown Masterpiece) ,who painted out each day the work of the previous day. Cézanne adored the Venetians which is curious and admitted that he lacked the power to realise his inward vision; hence the continual experimenting. He most admired Veronese, and was ambitious of being received at what he called the “Salon de Bouguereau.” The truth is, despite Cézanne’s long residence in Paris, he remained provincial to the end; his father before becoming a banker had been a hairdresser, and his son was proud of the fact, He never concealed it. He loved his father’s memory and had wet eyes when he spoke of him.
Bernard thinks that the vision of his master was defective; hence the sometime shocking deformations he indulged in. “His optique was more in his brain than in his eye.” He lacked imagination absolutely, and worked slowly, laboriously, his method one of excessive complication. He began with a shadow, then a touch, superimposing tone upon tone, modelling his paint somewhat like Monticelli, but without a hint of that artist’s lyricism. Sober, without rhetoric, a realist, yet with a singularly rich and often harmonious palette, Cézanne reported faithfully what his eyes told him.
It angered him to see himself imitated and he was wrathful when he heard that his still-life pictures were praised in Paris. “That stuff they like up there, do they? Their taste must be low,” he would repeat, his eyes sparkling with malice. He disliked the work of Paul Gauguin and repudiated the claim of being his artistic ancestor. “He did not understand me,” grumbled Cézanne. He praised Thomas Couture, who was, he asserted, a true master, one who had formed such excellent pupils as Courbet, Manet, and Puvis. This rather staggered Bernard, as well it might; the paintings of Couture and Cézanne are poles apart.
He had, he said, wasted much time in his youth particularly in literature. A lettered man, he read to Bernard a poem in imitation of Baudelaire, one would say very Baudelairian. He had begun too late, had submitted himself to other men’s influence, and wished for half a century that he might “realise” his favourite expression his theories. When he saw Bernard painting he told him that his palette was too restricted; he needed at least twenty colours: Bernard gives the list of yellows, reds, greens, and blues, with variations. “Don’t make Chinese images like Gauguin,” he said another time. “All nature must be modelled after the sphere, cone, and cylinder; as for colour, the more the colours harmonise the more the design becomes precise. Never a devotee of form – he did not draw from the model his philosophy can. be summed up thus: Look out for the contrasts and correspondence of tones, and the design will take care of itself. He hated “literary” painting and art criticism. He strongly advised Bernard to stick to his paint and let the pen alone. The moment an artist begins to explain his work he is done for, painting is concrete, literature deals with the abstract. He loved music, especially Wagner’s, which he did not understand, but the sound of Wagner’s name was sympathetic, and that had at first attracted him! Pissarro he admired for his indefatigable labours. Suffering from diabetes, which killed him, his nervous tension is excusable. He was in reality an amiable, kind-hearted, religious man. Above all, simple. He sought for the simple motive in nature. He would not paint a Christ head because he did not believe himself a worthy enough Christian. Chardin he studied and had a theory that the big spectacles and visor which the Little Master (the Velasquez of vegetables) wore had helped his vision. Certainly the still-life of Cézanne’s is the only modern still-life that may be compared to Chardin’s; not Manet, Vollon, Chase has ex-celled this humble painter of Aix. He called the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts the “Bozards,” and reviled as farceurs the German secessionists who imitated him. He considered Ingres, notwithstanding his science, a small painter in comparison with the Venetians and Spaniards.
A painter by compulsion, a contemplative rather than a creative temperament, a fumbler and seeker, nevertheless Paul Cézanne has formed a school, has left a considerable body of work. His optic nerve was abnormal, he saw his planes leap or sink on his canvas; he often complained, but his patience and sincerity were undoubted. Like his friend Zola his genius if genius there is in either man was largely a matter of protracted labour, and has it not been said that genius is a long labour?
From the sympathetic pen of Emile Bernard we learn of a character living in the real bohemia of Paris painters who might have figured in any of the novels referred to, or, better still, might have been interpreted by Victor Hugo or Ivan Turgenieff. But the Frenchman would have made of Père Tanguy a species of poor Myriel; the Russian would have painted him as he was, a saint in humility, springing from the soil, the friend of poor painters, a ocialist in theory, but a Christian in practice. After following the humble itinerary of his life you realise the uselessness of “literary” invention. Here was character for a novelist to be had for the asking. The Crainquebille of Anatole France occurs to the lover of that writer after reading Emile Bernard’s little study of Father Tanguy.
His name was Julien Tanguy. He was born in 1825 at Plédran, in the north of France. He was a plasterer when he married. The young couple, accustomed to hardships of all kinds, left Saint-Brieuc for Paris. This was in 1860. After various vicissitudes the man became a colour grinder in the house of Edouard, Rue Clauzel. The position was meagre. The Tan guys moved up in the social scale by accepting the job of concierge somewhere on the Butte Mont-martre. This gave Père Tanguy liberty, his wife looking after the house. He went into business on his own account, vending colours in the quarter and the suburbs. He traversed the country from Argenteuil to Barbizon, from Ecouen to Sarcelle. He met Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, all youthful and confident and boiling over with admiration for Corot, Courbet, and Millet. They patronised the honest, pleasant pedlar of colours and brushes, and when they didn’t have the money he trusted them. It was his prime quality that he trusted people. He cared not enough for money, as his too often suffering wife averred, and his heart, always on his sleeve, he was an easy mark for the designing. This supreme simplicity led him into joining the Communists in 1871, and then he had a nasty adventure. One day, while dreaming on sentry duty, a band from Versailles suddenly descended upon the outposts. Père Tanguy lost his-head. He could not fire on a fellow-being, and he threw away his musket. For this act of “treachery” he was sentenced to serve two years in the galleys at Brest. Released by friendly intervention he had still to remain without Paris for two years more. Finally, entering his beloved quarter he resumed his tranquil occupation, and hearing that the Maison Edouard had been moved from the Rue Clauzel he rented a little shop, where he sold material to artists, bought pictures, and entertained in his humble manner any friend or luckless devil who happened that way.
Cézanne and Vignon were his best customers. Guillemin, Pissarro, Renoir, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Oller, Messurer, Augustin, Signac, De Lautrec, symbolists of the Pont-Aven school, neo-impressionists, and the young fumistes of schools as yet unborn, revolutionaries with one shirt to their back, swearing at the official Salon and also swearing by the brotherhood of man (with a capital), assembled in this dingy old shop. Tanguy was a rallying point. He was full of the milk of human kindness, and robbed himself to give a worthless fellow with a hard-luck story some of the sous that should have gone to his wife. Fortunately she was a philosopher as well as an admirable housekeeper. If the rent was paid and there was some soup-meat for dinner she was content. More she could not expect from a man who gave away with both hands. But – and here is the curious part of this narrative of M. Bernard’s Tanguy was the only person in Paris who bought and owned pictures by Cézanne. He had dozens of his can-vases stacked away in the rear of his establishment Cézanne often parted with a canvas for a few francs. When Tanguy was hard up he would go to some discerning amateur and sell for two hundred francs pictures that to-day bring twenty thou-sand francs. Tanguy hated to sell, especially his Cézannes. Artists came to see them. His shop was the scene of many a wordy critical battle. Gauguin uttered the paradox, “Nothing so resembles a daub as a masterpiece,” and the novelist Elémir Bourges cried, “This is the painting of a vintager!” Alfred Stevens roared in the presence of the Cézannes, Anquetin admired; but, as Bernard adds, Jacques Blanche bought. So did Durand=Ruel, who has informed me that a fine Cézanne today is a difficult fish to hook. The great public won’t have him, and the amateurs who adore him jealously hold on to their prizes.
The socialism of Père Tanguy was of a mild order. He pitied with a Tolstoyan pity the sufferings of the poor. He did not hate the rich, nor did he stand at street corners preaching the beau-ties of torch and bomb. A simple soul, uneducated, not critical, yet with an instinctive flair for the coming triumphs of his young men, he espoused the cause of his clients because they were poverty stricken, unknown, and revolutionists an aesthetic revolution was his wildest dream. He said of Cézanne that “Papa Cézanne always quits a picture before he finishes it. If he moves he lets his canvases lie in the vacated studio.” He no doubt benefited by this carelessness of the painter. Cézanne worked slowly, but he never stopped working; he left nothing to hazard, and astonishing fact, he spent every morning at the Louvre. There he practised his daily scales, optically speaking, before taking up the brush for the day’s work. Many of Vincent von Gogh’s pictures Tanguy owned. This was about 1886. The eccentric, gifted Dutchman attracted the poor merchant by his ferocious socialism. He was, indeed, a ferocious temperament, working like a madman, painting with his colour tubes when he had no brushes, and literally living in the boutique of Tanguy. The latter always read Le Cri du Peuple and L’Intransigeant, and believed all he read. He did not care much for Van Gogh’s compositions, no doubt agreeing with Cézanne, who, viewing them for the first time, calmly re-marked to the youth,. “Sincerely, you paint like a crazy man.” A prophetic note! Van Gogh frequented a tavern kept by an old model, an Italian woman. It bore the romantic title of The Tambourine. When he couldn’t pay his bills he would cover the walls with furious frescoes, flowers of tropical exuberance, landscapes that must have been seen in a nightmare. He was painting at this time three pictures a day. He would part with a canvas at the extortionate price of a franc.
Tanguy was the possessor of a large portrait by Cézanne, done in his earliest manner. This he had to sell on account of pressing need. Dark days followed. He moved across the street into smaller quarters. The old crowd began to drift away; some died, some had become famous, and one, Van Gogh, shot himself in an access of mania. This was a shock to his friend. A second followed when Van Gogh’s devoted brother went mad. Good Father Tanguy, as he was affectionately called, sickened. He entered a hospital. He suffered from a cancerous trouble of the stomach. One day he said to his wife, who was visiting him: “I am bored here…. I won’t die here…. I mean to die in my own home.” He went home and died shortly afterward. In 1894 Octave Mirbeau wrote a moving article for the Journal about the man who had never spoken ill of any one, who had never turned from his door a hungry person. The result was a sale organised at the Hôtel Drouot, to which prominent artists and literary folk contributed works. Cazin, Guillemet, Gyp, Maufra, Monet, Luce, Pissarro, Rochegrosse, Sisley, Vauthier, Carrier-Belleuse, Berthe Morisot, Renoir, Jongkind, Raffaelli, Helleu, Rodin, and many others participated in this noble charity, which brought the widow ten thousand francs. She soon died.
Van Gogh painted a portrait of Tanguy about 1886. It is said to belong to Rodin. It represents the naïve man with his irregular features and placid expression of a stoic; not a distinguished face, but unmistakably that of a gentle soul, who had loved his neighbour better than himself (therefore he died in misery). He it was who may be remembered by those who knew him and also a few future historians of the futility of things in general as the man who first made known to Paris the pictures of the timid, obstinate Paul Cézanne. An odd fish, indeed, was this same Julien Tanguy, little father to painters.