My Favourite Painting: John Kasmin

'It’s a complex work, yet tender'

Still Life with Plaster Cast, about 1894, 28in by 21in, by Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), Courtauld Gallery, London WC2.

John Kasmin says:
‘The delight this small painting offers me is neverending. It’s a complex work, yet tender–a sensuous tease cleverly, deliberately unresolved as it deals with a mix of real things and painted and cast things in artificial space. I see an invitation to join Cézanne in his studio and participate in his concentrated looking and thinking–and finding high excitement. One shares in the thrill of placing that upper apple so oddly, in the dizzying near vertigo of the table’s place beneath Cupid, the puzzling edges of the stacked canvases. And, if the mind is strained, one can let the eye dissolve in the delicious cloud of paint where empty space lies.’

John Kasmin is an art dealer, best known for promoting British and American art in the 1960s.

Art critic John McEwen comments:
‘Cézanne was born out of wedlock in Aix-en-Provence, his parents not marrying until he was five. His father, a trader in felt hats, went on to found a bank. This was fortunate, as Cézanne had little success, for all the respect of his Impressionist contemporaries, until late in life. Only once did he have a picture accepted by the Salon, despite repeated attempts.

His first one-man show in Paris was not until 1895, and, in 1897, when two of his paintings were hung in the Berlin National Gallery, the Kaiser had them banned. Yet, via Picasso, Matisse, Derain and Braque, he is the seminal influence on 20th-century art. Contrary to the bohemian impression, he died a devout Catholic. The plaster cast of the cupid can still be seen in his studio at Aix. It is much smaller than it appears in the painting, just one way in which Cézanne bent reality to his own artistic satisfaction.

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There is an eyewitness account of the trouble he took setting up his still-life arrangements: ‘Tipping, turning, balancing the fruit as he wanted them to be, using coins of one or two sous for the purpose…it was for him a feast for the eye.’ Cézanne was launched commercially by Vollard. At this time of the David Hockney spectacular at the RA, it’s worth remembering that Mr Hockney was launched into the big time by Mr Kasmin and his business partner, the late Lord Dufferin. But Cézanne was in his mid fifties, Mr Hockney in his mid twenties.’

This article was first published in Country Life, February 15, 2012