Is that what Manet and Cézanne are up to? That’s what Robert Pippin explores in a lecture last year based on his recent book, After the Beautiful: Hegel and the Philosophy of Pictorial Modernism (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2013). When the face of Le Dejeuner sur l’herb looks out at us, or when the varying solidity of spheres spilling out of The Basket of Apples seems to weigh on us, what kind of challenge are they presenting?
The pear and jar in “Still Life with Italian Earthenware Jar” both seem to defy a stable height for the beholder. It’s as if the jar resists tilting toward us if we rise up (on tip-toe?) to see into it from above: it has to be angled toward us, yet looking at the bottom, I can’t escape the feeling that it’s also tilting away from us. Likewise, the pear seems pointed down, but as if the beholder is floating further up. The conditions of our beholding a painting are usually understood to be a stable perspective: from a certain height and distance, our gaze moving within a cone from that point to the canvas. Yet Cezanne (somehow) makes us feel our motion in front of a painting, leaning in or angling ourselves, caught halfway between behaving as if these were real objects (that we could move around and get a better or different view of) and behaving as if they were color patterns of some interest, from which we were entirely detached.