I was thinking of teetering stiffness… that dreaded pull between urgent longing and sheer terror: wobbling in unsteady collapse.
French painter Paul Cézanne was notoriously afraid of women, and the angst-laced longing shot through his only known love letter hints at the depth of his torment. Early in his career, the young country painter produced works bespeaking a violent passion far removed from the bucolic landscapes for which he’s best known. Those early stirrings so at odds with his conservative upbringing surfaced in his larger life as well – schoolmate Emile Zola famously caricatured the young Cézanne as torn by his passion for women’s flesh but unable to possess them, and so doing violence to them on canvas instead. Cézanne’s career progressed, but his feelings about women remained complex. In Paris he began a relationship with model Hortense-Marie Fiquet, though he was ambivalent about her by the time they finally married 17 years later, and they lived mostly separate lives thereafter. His passions had not disappeared, though. A year before they married, those intense early emotions resurfaced, as secretly recorded on the back of a canvas to an unknown object of affection. Cézanne’s tortured tension between fear and desire was alive and well, even as the next year he settled into married life with Hortense, the unblinking subject of so many of his portraits during their lifetimes.