Upon my arrival to Paris, and much to my chagrin; I had yet to “choose” my favorite Cezanne painting. In fact, and perhaps more appropriately [as per Rilke], it really hadn’t chosen me. I decided to wander D’Orsay today with no map, with only a keen eye, certainly waiting for the moment as I turned the corner and there they would be.
I was prepared for an emotional reaction after I had begun reading “Letters on Cezanne” by Rilke. And while I already understood that my affinity for his work was easily matched–and ultimately surpassed–by that Austrian poet; perhaps I had forgotten and underestimated the visceral effect of seeing them in person.
So, rather suddenly, on the 5th floor of the D’Orsay on this most ordinary Tuesday…THERE THEY WERE. As I turned the corner, my eye caught a glimpse of “Madame Cezanne” to my right, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I hadn’t visited this collection since the 1990s…long before the love had blossomed. And here they were, hanging in a room next to the works of Cezanne’s good friend, Renoir. There were 7 in total. So unassuming. I put on some music and settled in. Little did I know that the choosing was already in the works.
None jumped out at first glance. But then as I moved past the first painting towards the second, I saw “The Card Player”. This painting is literally unfinished, or so it seemed. It hit me like a punch. And maybe that’s why it took over my morning, my concentration, even my eyes which soon after started filling up. The slouch, the blue, THAT BLUE, the brown shading of the suit, the concentration, and even the seriousness in something so NOT serious. It was mesmerizing. I mean part of the canvas is blank for goodness’ sake! I still can’t get over that. I watched it, I studied it, I looked at it while standing from different angles and then sitting from the room bench. I watched others watching it. It suddenly had been almost an hour in that room but like time had not passed at all.
I took a much-needed break; I needed to catch my breath. I felt like I wanted to cry. Maybe that’s ok. It’s Paris after all.
I walked around, took a quick detour to Van Gogh, and tried to ignore the clambering throngs of tourists only seeing his self-portrait through a camera lens.
Then I finally went back and said my goodbyes…hopefully not for too long as before. It can’t be another 20 years this time. Maybe I should come back tomorrow.
As I left the floor and museum smiling, I also remembered how others had written of him so kindly, including his successors who would soon take over the modernist movement. He deconstructed art in a way that inspired and made cubism possible. And they knew it. I was also still taken aback by how much the other contemporary impressionist painters LOVED him. Like thought of him as a mentor and revolutionary inspiration. Really loved him. This ultimately made me smile even wider as I was sure I was likely the only person in that place and moment thinking of him in that way.
Finally, as I left, I caught a glimpse of the river from a north side window of the corridor. I wondered if the L’Orangerie would hold a canvas that would steal the top spot tomorrow. I certainly can’t imagine how it would even be possible. From that dirty window, I could see what was coming tomorrow and it was going to be heavy.
Perhaps there would be an un-choosing, then a re-choosing, all seemingly out of my control. Perhaps…or maybe even hopefully.
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