In the preceding chapters, we discerned the possibility that Paul Cezanne
(1839?1906), in his painted representations, was inspired by the transformed
vision induced by passing sceneries viewed from a moving train, which was
a new vision in the second half of the nineteenth century. We then reconsider
this theme from the viewpoint of the transformation of the mentality influenced
by the steam railway.
When the steam railway came into existence, the older generation, who had
grown used to the natural landscape, perceived the transformation of the
terrain as an ugly spectacle, when viewed from the linear rapidity of the
train, causing feelings associated with travel to become less exciting
and which tore apart the passing sceneries.
For example, in Modern Painters
, Volume III (1856), John Ruskin describes his animosity the railroad trip:
Hence, to any person who has all his senses about him, a quiet walk along
not more than ten or twelve miles of road a day, is the most amusing of
all travelling; and all travelling becomes dull in exact proportion to
its rapidity. Going by railroad I do not consider as travelling at all;
it is merely gbeing senth to a place, and very little different from becoming
a parcel (1).
On the other hand, the new generation, which has developed a modernized
perception of the steam railway and which has adapted themselves to its
linear rapidity, enjoys the train ride in comfort and appreciates the transformation
of the window scenery as an aesthetic spectacle that gradually appears.
For instance, in Life on the Railways
(1861), Benjamin Gastineau praised the railway journey:
Before the creation of the railroads, nature did not pulsate; it was a
Sleeping Beautyc. The heavens themselves appeared immutable. The railroad
animated everythingc. The sky has become an active infinity, and nature
a dynamic beauty (2).
Regarding the transformation of mentality induced by the steam railway,
in Railway Journey
(1977), Wolfgang Schivelbusch explains the phenomenon: gThe railroad has
created a new landscape. The velocity that atomized the objects of Ruskinfs
perception, and thus deprived them of their contemplative value, became
a stimulus for the new perception. It is the velocity that made the objects
of the visible world attractiveh (3).
In relation to this, after he visited his best friend Emile Zolafs palatial
residence in Medan, Cezanne wrote a letter to Zola on June 23, 1879, describing
how he was enjoying the window scenery from a moving train:
I arrived without any catastrophe at the station at Triel and my arm, waved
across the door as I passed in front of your castle, must haverevealed
to you my presence in the train\which I didnft miss (4).
Incidentally, Zola, well-known as a railway fan, built his house so that
it faced the railroad of the Paris-Le Havre train line and took photographs
of a speeding train with his extra hobby camera (Fig. 1-Fig. 4). It is
probable that Cezanne waved his arm to Zola from just such a train.
Fig. 1 Photographed by Emile Zola
Self-portrait, date unknown.
Fig. 2 Photographed by Emile Zola
Zolafs residence in Medan and the railroad of the Paris- Le Havre train line, date unknown.
Fig. 3 Photographed by Emile Zola
A train that passed in front of Zolafs residence,
Fig. 4 Photographed by Emile Zola
A photograph of the scene in Fig. 5 and Fig. 6,
This letter shows that Cezanne took the railway trip freely and enjoyed
it comfortably. In short, Cezanne is a member of one of the first generations
that perceived railway travel visions as being aesthetically pleasing.
Interestingly, during the same period in which he wrote the letter to Zola,
Cezanne painted the circumference of Zolafs residence and called it Castle at Medan
(1879?1881) (Fig. 5) and Castle at Medan
(1879?1880) (Fig. 6).
Fig. 5 Paul Cezanne
Castle at Medan
Fig. 6 Paul Cezanne
Castle at Medan
We can recognize the similarities in the common features of these two works,
that is, the juxtaposition of touches to the horizontal direction and the
emphasis on horizontal ridgelines with the vision of scenery as it passes
by when viewed through the window during a railway journey.
Of course, in both of these paintings, Cezanne did not sketch the exact
scenery as it was viewed through the window of a moving train. Here, from
the perspective of internalization and his artistic creativity of a modernistic
vision, it is very important for us to know that after getting off a train,
Cezanne painted natural landscapes by applying the mechanized perception
induced by the steam railway.
In addition, Cezanne actually described the Mont Sainte-Victoire as seen
from a moving train in his letter dated April 14, 1878, in which he wrote,
gWhat a beautiful motif.h
Thus, because there is a considerable amount of positive evidence, it is
unnatural or even impossible to deny or ignore the possibility that Cezannefs
painted representations were influenced by the transformation of the visual
perception inspired by the passing sceneries viewed from a moving train
by simply making an assumption without having any evidence to substantiate
it. (Fig. 7).
Fig. 7 Photographer unknown
Paul Cezanne at about 32 years old around 1871.
(1) John Ruskin, Modern Painters
, Volume III, London, 1856; Kessinger edition, 2005, p. 280.
(2) Cited in Walter Benjamin, gDas Passagen-Werk,h in Gesammelte Schriften
, Volume V (2), Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1982; Dritte Auflage, 1989,
(3) Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th
, Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1986, p.
(4) Paul Cezanne, Correspondance
, recueillie, annotee et prefacee par John Rewald, Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1937; nouvelle edition revisee et augmentee, Paris: Bernard Grasset,
1978, p. 184. (English edition, New York: Da Capo Press, 1995, p. 180.)
., p. 165. (English edition, New York: Da Capo Press, 1995, p. 159.)
Fig. 1-Fig. 4 was quoted from Emile Zola, Photograph: Eine Autobiographie
in 480 Bildern, herausgegeben und zusammengestellt von Francois-Emile Zola
und Massin, Munchen: Schirmer/Mosel, 1979.
Fig. 7 was quoted from Paul Cezanne, Correspondance, recueillie, annotee
et prefacee par John Rewald, nouvelle edition revisee et augmentee, Paris:
Bernard Grasset, 1978.