The forthcoming exhibition The Courtauld Cézannes (26 June – 5 October) will see the Gallery’s collection of works by Paul Cézanne displayed together for the first time. In addition to the paintings, the exhibition will feature some less well-known works, including rarely exhibited drawings and watercolours. One of the surprises will be a display of nine important autograph letters from collection. These will be published in a new translation in the catalogue. The letters date from the final years of Cézanne’s life and were written to the younger painter Emile Bernard. Since their first publication in 1907, these nine letters have been recognised as offering perhaps the single most coherent account of Cézanne’s views on art. Throughout, the letters set out to counter Bernard’s penchant for abstract theorising, and to justify Cézanne’s own insistence that art should be based on the scrupulous study of nature. Rainer Maria Rilke, on reading the letters when they were first published, saw them as virtually unintelligible, and as evidence of Cézanne’s loathing of verbal expression. However, taken together with letters to other correspondents and interviews from Cézanne’s last years, they show that he himself was keen to articulate his aims in words, and to present a cogent and searching view of his artistic project, even while insisting that precept could never replace practice.


Professor John House

Paul Cézanne, Letter to Emile Bernard, 23 October, 1905