"There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more" – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1974: 156)
I was in London last week and lucky enough to find time to pop into the Courtauld Gallery in order to see their exhibition on “Cézanne’s Card Players“. The exhibition focuses on a series of paintings made by Paul Cézanne of peasant card players and pipe smokers. The paintings are themselves tremendous – astonishing in many respects – and they speak powerfully to the very business of painting a particular form of life. As T.J. Clark has recently noted in the London Review of Books:
[Cézanne’s peasants] are not producing ‘themselves’ for the painter-viewer. Which is to say, they come to portraiture from a world – from a class position – just a little outside the genre’s suppositions and implicit bargains. That is the point. They are awkward, resplendent, self-possessed men. Working men, enduring the attention of the odd son of a dead banker (who paid well). They are, it now seems possible to see, monuments to a specific way of life – to another kind of balance between inwardness and exteriority – but we are treated to that monumentality precisely because the ambition to ‘represent the peasant’ was utterly foreign to Cézanne’s cast of mind (December 2, 2010).
For Clark, language, in the end, misses the point. It is practically impossible to find appropriate words for this form of picturing. Maybe it is better to simply look.