Illustrated companion

A portrait of Vallier, the gardener and odd-job man at C?zanne's house near Aix-en-Provence. It is one of a group of six paintings for which Vallier was the model and was probably painted in the summer and autumn of 1906, just before C?zanne's death in October that year. It is a very complete expression of C?zanne's mature style, in which, it may be said, he achieved his aim of 'making of Impressionism something solid and lasting like the art of the museums'.

C?zanne's approach to reforming Impressionism was to take to obsessional extremes the basic Impressionist procedure of painting direct from the motif (the view or object being painted), scrutinising every part of it in turn with concentrated attention and rendering it on the canvas in its exact tone, by which he meant both the shade of colour and the degree of its luminosity. 'Penetrate what is before you, and express yourself as logically as possible', he wrote to Emile Bernard. Each tone would be put down in a distinct brushstroke separate from but overlapping its neighbours. This procedure can be seen in the right shoulder of 'The Gardener', for example, which is built up from three overlapping curved brushstrokes of three different tones of blue, the gradations of tone indicating the fall of light over the curved form of the shoulder. C?zanne's way of building the effect of solid form with shaped and graded patches of colour can also be seen very well in the treatment of the knee and thigh, where the knee is modelled in flat chunky patches and then a broad patch, slightly tapering in perspective, runs backwards marking the line of the thigh on its outer curve, its nearest point to the artist. This piece of painting can be related to C?zanne's famous statement, in a letter to Bernard, '... treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything in proper perspective so that each side of an object or plane is directed towards a central point.' The 'cylinder, the sphere, the cone' may refer to objects used for drawing exercises in nineteenth-century art academies.

The right foot of Vallier is interesting in a further way. The foot is, in fact, the nearest to the painter of all the parts of the model and its perspective recession from toe to heel can clearly be seen. But C?zanne has also exaggerated its size to make it appear nearer to us. Of course, he did not see it this way, since where the brain is familiar with the normal size of an object it makes an automatic correction and a familiar object close to is seen as being normal in size, but near. C?zanne is here deliberately seeing in 'uncorrected perspective' as a novel means of creating a sense of space.

At the same time C?zanne was also concerned to create an overall unity and harmony of all the elements in his paintings. He achieved this by the overlapping of brush strokes to link them together, and by the device of passage with which he linked the edges of objects to their surroundings and background. In 'The Gardener' passage can be seen particularly well in the area of the model's right hip, where C?zanne has repeated the outline of the hip until it blends into the area of bluish grey shadow behind. These repeated outlines suggest that C?zanne was slightly shifting his point of view, and so seeing the model in a different relationship to the background. This characteristic of C?zanne's late paintings. together with their highly structured yet highly unified quality, had a great impact on Picasso when C?zanne's works were exhibited in Paris, in the years just before and after his death in 1906. Paintings such as 'The Gardener' are direct forerunners of Cubism.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.108