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Letters on Cézanne By Rainer Maria Rilke
Paul Cézanne was the first painter I liked as a child. I adored how he used color and texture to build up an object, making it so solid, so real. Rainer Maria Rilke is a writer with whom I have no experience, though reading this work has made me want to investigate his poetry.
Rilke sees Cézanne as a direct, honest painter who paints what he sees without judgment. Rilke admires the way he sees color in everything; even Cézanne’s grays are full of color. As a painter I can appreciate this, since I, too, have spent much time gazing at a shadow trying to tease out the inner colors with my eyes so I can paint with more depth. Rilke’s encounters with the paintings of Cézanne helped him become the sort of person who looks with great care at the world around him.
This collection of letters from Rilke’s 1907 visit to Paris is a thing of subtle, insightful beauty, from an era when written sentences could be long and magnificent, and people would read out loud to each other for entertainment. It was a time when a person like Rilke could spend two hours looking at just a few Cézanne paintings, in rapt attention, and could while away two days poring over a 40 page book about Van Gogh. Rilke writes his wife every day, expressing in exquisite detail everything he has noticed about all manner of subjects, most prominently, the work of Cézanne, but also his musings about other painters and about Paris.
This book is worth your time if you like to look to look at and read about art, especially the art of Europe at the turn of the 1900s, or even if you are just curious at how a thoughtful poet saw things during that era.