In Basel, Switzerland, I recently went to see an exhibition, "The Hidden Cézanne: from Sketchbook to Canvas" at the Kunstmuseum. Not only was it an interestingly diverse show, but it was also one that encouraged me hugely as a draughtswoman! Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) was all over the place in his drawings, from almost lyrical, rhythmic and tender, to violent or so agonisingly awkward and uptight that it was almost dislocating to view the small drawings. There is hope for us all as artists, in other words!
Many of the drawings on display had originally been in Cézanne's larger or smaller sketchbooks, and were taken out when son Paul dismembered the books after his father's death. The Kunstmuseum owns 154 of these drawings, a really important holding. Cézanne apparently did not draw steadily through a sketchbook, finish the book and move to another; instead there are drawings from different times, book by book. He would apparently carry two sketchbooks in his coat pockets and randomly pull one out when he wanted to draw something. He would work in any direction, up down, back to front, whatever. And he almost never showed anyone any of his drawings, either the sketchbooks or the loose leaf drawings that he also did. In total, there are nearly 1,300 drawings in his opus.
Since he based an enormous part of his creative thinking on his drawings, they are, however, a really fascinating entry point into so much of his work. Of course, the subject matter is all over the place - from his copies of statues and Delacroix paintings in the Louvre when he used to go there to learn human anatomy, etc., to landscapes, bathers, his family and even his dog. All the themes are muddled up and in the recompilation of the Basel III Sketchbook, this becomes very clear. Art historians and conservators managed to reconstruct this dismembered book thanks to staple marks, stains, water marks, etc., for most of the book. In fact, only six sketchbooks survived son Paul's depredations and are intact, with one of them held by the Art Institute of Chicago. It shows that Cézanne held the book a different way every time he hauled it out of his pocket (the urgency of inspiration perhaps?) and used the book over a period of about ten years.
Nonetheless, this amazing array of drawings, mostly very small (certainly by today's general drawing standards), shows how he prepared compositions and themes for his paintings, although he did not necessarily end up copying the drawing for the painting. Seeing the exhibition drove home again to me how flexible artists become, as they work and create, and yet, how drawings can help inform and crystallise thinking about what to paint. Many are pure drawings, never used in painting, yet the shapes appear in paintings, such as his favourite cones, cylinders and spheres. His allusions to his drawings of other artists' work, or things he has seen etched or drawn also show up, sometimes long, long afterwards.
I attended a fascinating talk about Cézanne's drawings given at the Kunstmuseum by Denis Coutagne, President of the Paul Cézanne Society in Aix-en-Provence. He wove back and forth through Cézanne's inspirations for drawings and their contribution to paintings, even if they only helped to educate his eye. He cited, for example, the thought that perhaps Cézanne's studies of the structure of Poussin's paintings led him on to compose and create his amazing Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings, echoing triangular shapes, arches, etc. Coutagne emphasised the fact that no matter how tiny Cézanne's drawings are, they always have a monumentality to them. It is true, I decided, when I returned to look again at the exhibition the following day. The main impression overall that one takes away from such an exhibition, and one driven home by Coutagne, is that Cézanne was utterly unique, his drawings impenetrable and impossible to classify or mistake for those of any other artist.
There is an important message in that, I decided. Namely, each of us needs to be unique and true to our own inner visions and ways of formulating our drawing, paintings, sculptures, whatever. Don't worry about what other people think of our creative process, just get on and follow where ever the drawing or thought might take us, even if we struggle and falter on the way.. The work will thus carry our individual hallmark, genuinely the record of an honest human endeavour.