Paul Cézanne’s painting Marion And Valabregue Setting Out For Motif is generally aligned with that of Post-Impressionism but also is seen as looking forward to later twentieth-century developments in Modern Art. As Picasso was once to exclaim: “Cézanne is the father of us all”.
The two protagonists’ gazes in 1866’s Marion And Valabregue Setting Out For Motif are fixed on us. Marion, a naturalist friend of Cezanne’s is on the left and to the fore, carrying paints and brushes and wearing a straw hat. Valabrègue, the poet and art critic, is on the right.
The fact that Marion carries the equipment perhaps signals the practical nature of his profession. Valabrègue by contrast does not seem to carry anything. The poet is perhaps waiting for inspiration to strike while the naturalist seeks to engage more actively; both indicate different modes of connectedness to nature.
The landscape painted by Cézanne is lush and full of life with an overhanging bower and coils of vegetation at the lower edge of the picture that forms a natural threshold. This threshold is in place for the painter (Cézanne) who creates it as perhaps a boundary between the consciousnesses of his friends and his own. After all, Cézanne’s work on this painting is complete but the work of his friends is yet to begin. The threshold also is in place for his friends as something to be crossed or navigated into inspiration by nature and into the state of mind of Cézanne.
Indeed, as the two gazes are intent on us as spectators and on the painter, the two men become – as well as being seen – spectators too. They are triply spectators with their attention on nature as a source of inspiration if we imagine them as viewing a vista perhaps; with their attention on us spectators as equals; and their attention on Cézanne who we can see completing the work in the view of his sitters.
Paul Cézanne’s Marion And Valabregue Setting Out For Motif is in a private collection.