The lead article, ‘Ways of Making: Practice and Innovation in Cézanne’s National Gallery Paintings’ to be published in the National Gallery’s technical Bulletin in September, will be dedicated to Caroline Villers. It is written from the perspective of close scrutiny of the paintings’ surfaces, technical examination of Cézanne’s use of materials as each painting evolved and a critical reading of secondary accounts of Cézanne’s practice. The article explores Cézanne’s sustained engagement with the question of what it is to ‘represent’ at a particular historical moment. It proposes that he does this through the refinement of an experimental painting practice, which balances control of means with a state of open-ended possibility and uncertainty. His practice challenged an aesthetic that was bound up with hierarchies of medium and an idea of reality that could be represented by an artist following a clearly defined series of preparatory steps towards a finished painting.

The forthcoming The Courtauld Cézannes exhibition, which will include his watercolours and oil paintings stimulated consideration of what links and what differentiates the two media in terms of Cézanne’s approach and use of materials. Technical study was used to test interpretations of Cézanne’s theoretical statements concerning his ‘means of expression’ and to challenge the notion that line was unimportant to him. The catalogue essay, ‘Transparency of Means: Drawing and Colour in Cézanne’s watercolours and oils in The Courtauld Institute Gallery’, proposes that Cézanne’s particular use of colour and line combine to challenge academic notions of drawing and is as much about the process of making as it is about the act of looking. His work evidences a concern to ‘draw with colour’ but line also plays a major role in the complex and often rhythmical web of relationships underpinning his paintings. The exhibition will present some of these ideas.

The work made possible by the Caroline Viller’s fellowship will be taken forward into The Courtauld Research Forum ‘Writing Art History’ Seminar Group. The research will examine the idea that close looking at the physical object is essential to the writing of art history. A model of technical art history will be explored that is not only a form of connoisseurship but is inclusive of the philosophical, social or political underpinnings of a work of art and is critical of claims that close looking offers a direct link, through following the artist’s hand, between the viewer and the artist’s mind and intentions.

Elisabeth Reissner, Caroline Villers Fellow 2006-07

Paul Cézanne, Apples, Bottle and Chairback, c.1900-6, detail