Cezanne’s Ghosts


Dear Artist,

I’m one of those painters who is forever fascinated with the work of Paul Cezanne. I’ve tracked down his locations around Mont Sainte-Victoire and peered out at the village of Aix through the wavy glass of his studio windows. Looking closely at his paintings and trying to figure out what was going on in his head has been a major preoccupation of mine. So I paid attention when Dewain Boyce sent me his latest findings.


“Suicide’s House”
painting with revealed cones

Dewain is making a case that Cezanne imbedded cones, ovals and other geometric motifs in his work. Dewain claims this is the basis of structural strength in the compositions. He leaves it to someone else to figure out whether this was conscious or unconscious. Why should we care about Dewain’s well conducted research? It’s just possible that Cezanne shows us a way to give weight, mass, volume, compositional integrity and harmony to our paintings.

Cezanne gave us lots of clues to the pictorial harmony he was seeking. He told Emile Bernard that one needs “an invisible scaffolding of spheres, cones and cylinders.” Like the Classical tradition of entasis and other devices in Greek architecture, he had an understanding of hidden structure. “To paint is not to copy the object slavishly,” he said, “it is to grasp a harmony among many relationships.”


“Quarry and Mt. Ste. Victoire”
painting with revealed cones

Cezanne was a plodder, never far from feelings of personal failure. Persisting in relatively uninspiring subject matter, he worked and reworked until a distinctive style emerged. In a way, it was his sense of failure that drove him in his obsession — trying to get it right, trying to improve on his ideas. There’s a lesson in this. By his own admission he was not a great artist. “Chance has not favoured me with self-assurance,” he said. At another time in a rare moment of bluff, he said, “I have come only to show the way.” Indeed he did. Lineups, implied and continued curves and other forms of linear activation are now basics of abstraction. Realistic painters also need to know about these compositional strengtheners. As in the work of Cezanne, many an unresolved or wispy painting can be saved and made compelling by hidden scaffolding.


“The Great Pine”
painting with revealed cones

Best regards,


PS: “Beyond the three dimensions of length, breadth, and perspective depth, there is a rhythmic, voluminous movement, or a poised spatial relationship that speaks emotionally to the spectator. In a great many of Cezanne’s canvases one detects a fluctuation of the volumes and planes — a palpable feeling of emotional organization.” (Art critic Sheldon Cheney, 1886-1980)



“View of Gardanne”
painting with revealed cones

Esoterica: Of interest and concern to observant realists is the apparent pervasive amateurism of much of modern art. Consciously or unconsciously, Cezanne was one of the first to ask people to look at something else — something beyond the simply real — a request made possible only by the advent of Impressionism. “The Impressionist’s style,” says Dewain Boyce, “is the perfect method for camouflaging ellipses, cones and cylinders and hiding them among sketchy images, loose outlines, colour and tone changes, arbitrary marks, squiggly lines, washed-out lines and bare canvas patches.”




Dewain Boyce, Ghosts in the Forest — Cezanne’s Geometry


“Sous Bois”
with revealed ellipses


“Compotier with Glass and Apples”
with revealed cones


“Mt. Ste. Victoire with Large Pine”
with revealed cylinders


“Quarry and Mt. Ste. Victoire”
with revealed cones






Successful failing
by Gina Mollicone-Long


“The Secret of Successful Failing”
advice on using failure to be successful

Regarding Cezanne’s feelings of failure, failure is feedback, nothing more. Failure is just a reflection of something that isn’t working on the inside. It doesn’t hold any hidden meaning about our worthiness and doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. It is feedback about what worked and what didn’t work. It contains all the necessary information for us to go back and change something on the inside so that we can produce a different outcome. If you can master the art of learning from your failures, you will find that you can literally direct your life exactly as you want it.

(RG note) Thanks, Gina. Gina Mollicone-Long is the author of The Secret of Successful Failing. Gina is trying an interesting experiment. While her excellent book is available on Amazon and other places, people who buy her book today, October 16th, 2007, will receive access to over $5800.00 worth of bonuses — plus they will be helping her raise money for some of the charities she believes in. A lot of sponsors who have found value in Gina’s book are participating in the event. You can find out about it at www.ginaML.com/bookbonus.htm


Nothing new here
by Gretchen Van Cleave, Spring, TX, USA


“Quarry and Mt. Ste. Victoire”
oil painting
by Paul Cezanne

I am a photographer and have been teaching photography and basic design for over 11 years at the college level and at guest lectures. I picked or should I say Cezanne picked me to fascinate over his paintings. He is my favorite of all Impressionists because of his use of design elements. Your Dewain is only stating what is obvious to all experts of design: Everything is made up of parts of lines and parts of circles. I have taught this for years. Add only shadow to give dimension. If you see a cone in Cezanne’s work, it is only your eye (brain) giving depth to the simpler elements which he laid down so carefully then added his wonderful color to give that depth. Gestalt to the max.


Cezanne had Asperger’s Syndrome?
by Jane Alcorn, Australia


“Quarry and Mt. Ste. Victoire 2”
oil painting
by Paul Cezanne

I have been fascinated by Cezanne for many years, and recently read a biography by Philip Callow. As I was reading, it was uncanny to come upon references to his sadness, strange moods, fear of touch and unusual appearance. I have several people in my immediate family who have varying degrees of Asperger’s syndrome, and I can’t help but think that he might well have had a similar condition. One of my sons who has quite severe Asperger’s is an artist also. All of them have particular skills and are narrowly focused on those skills. It made me wonder whether Cezanne might have been similarly obsessive about his work.


If Ghosts Could Speak
by Richard Hawk, San Diego, CA, USA


“Questioning Detail”
painted portrait
by Richard Hawk

I don’t know what Mr. Boyce is smoking, but I want some! It is true though that everywhere in Cezanne’s work there is the air of a plan — some principle or principles that he held in his mind and applied as he worked. If only we could truly know exactly what he was up to! Then maybe we’d understand how many of his paintings, which seem homogenous at first glance, hold our attention with some underlying core.




Cezanne knew what he was doing
by Jon Rader Jarvis, Vashon Island, WA, USA


“Wine glasses and matches”
acrylic on canvas
by Jon Rader Jarvis

When I was in grad school I was playing with a hypothesis. The fact that we see with two eyes means that we learn to ignore second images instinctively. A thumb at arms length will give the illusion of a double background when you focus both eyes on the thumb. Likewise focusing on the distant landscape makes the thumb appear as double. Used in a painting, a tree at the edge painted as a double gives the feel of causing a focus on a distant object, and a double church steeple or double mountain peak produces a large depth of field effect and focuses on a near object. I put the conjecture in my thesis paper then saw, a few years later, a local museum exhibition of Impressionist work, including Cezanne paintings with double church steeples, double mountain peaks (Mont Sainte-Victoire) and double tree trunks at the side of his paintings. He had seen and realized the truth, using it to demonstrate his expertise at enhanced illusory depth. I had admired his varied back edges that implied a moving eye experiencing edges between still life objects as spatial objects in real space, the moving line that affects the viewer. I knew he was sophisticated, but he was also a clear-eyed genius who knew what he was doing.


Cezanne’s humanity
by Faith Puleston, Herdecke, Germany


“Snake and Apples”
painting on canvas
by Faith Puleston

I always think of Cezanne taking his morning stroll ’round the local street market, choosing fresh fruit according to quality, shape, size and colour for a new composition, bartering at the flower stall, calling in at the wine store for another interesting bottle, than taking it all home, finding a fresh cloth to drape over the rickety old table and setting it all up. I’m sure all the edible and drinkable bits of his still lifes wandered either into a cooking pot or straight down his gullet. Identifying with Cezanne is easy. His humanity, striving and refined simplicity are an inspiration.


Cezanne’s struggle and perseverance
by Susanne Kelley Clark, Dallas, TX, USA


“Along the Creek”
oil on paper, 22.75 x 30.25 inches
by Susanne Kelley Clark

Two worthwhile books are Erle Loran’s Cezanne’s Composition, first published in 1943 and Cezanne Landscape into Art by Pavel Machotka. To me some of Cezanne’s compositions seem to focus on variations of one geometric shape, such as his The Great Bathers, but most of them include multiple layers of all the basic shapes, masterfully integrated into compositions which always seem to present something new. I have always loved the way he is able to distort space and convince us that it is completely real. Looking at a Cezanne in person is a rich experience, seeing all the layers of color sparkling through one another and also realizing how much time, struggle and perseverance went into the making of his paintings. We are fortunate to have his work to learn from.

There is 1 comment for Cezanne’s struggle and perseverance by Susanne Kelley Clark

From: Reidh (Ray) Beallagh — Aug 22, 2010

Suzanne (like cezanne) Clark points to “one geometric shape” as a variation in his The Great Bathers in the Barnes Coll.. What one shape is that to which she refers. is it the Humongous face/head which takes the totality of the painting itself, or does she mean some other shape?


Cezanne a master of colour
by John Mullenger, Oakville, ON, Canada


“The Great Pine”
oil painting
by Paul Cezanne

The underlying geometric structure in Cezanne’s paintings, as Boyce points out in his research, is paramount to the success of his paintings. But I feel this is merely a “given,” for no painting will succeed without it. Every great painting utilizes a geometric framework based on basic shapes. Whether it is a conscious or subconscious thing is a moot point — If you do a thing long enough consciously, eventually it will become “second-nature.” Where I believe Cezanne excelled above all, is with his colour. He is the master of colour and he is the artist’s artist because of this.



Humility in Cezanne
by Jane Champagne, Southampton, ON, Canada


“The Great Pine”
oil painting
by Paul Cezanne

Too much analysis kills the joy in great works of art; it’s a left-brain exercise. Cezanne was a humble man, who probably never knew how influential he would be. Someone once defined humility as “low, of the earth.” When you’re “low” — that is, close to the earth — you’re a realist, you’re in touch with the reality of the world as it is. To say that he painted “relatively uninspiring subject matter” is another way of saying that he painted the reality of his, not someone else’s world. Yes, he was a plodder; he walked and walked to find what his vision searched for. And died out in his beloved Provence, while walking, easel on shoulder, cane in hand, searching the earth. Humble. We could use more of this.


Hidden scaffolding in digital art
by Peter Ciccariello, Providence, RI, USA


“Ashford Wall”
by Peter Ciccariello

“Hidden scaffolding” resonated for me. And certainly Cezanne has always been the “painter’s painter.” The natural world, created by systems of greater and greater complexity is metaphorically represented in the exterior by the internal structure of how we transpose what we see and experience from the interior. In my own work The process begins with using a variety of 3-D imaging software to create a virtual three dimensional space, arranging and composing simple primitives shapes (spheres, cubes, tori, columns), and sometimes more complex polygon mesh models. This “virtual” composition is then texture mapped using fragments of text and letters, digital photos, and real-world textures. Lighting is introduced and positioned to either create the illusion of a landscape, or a generic interior. The resulting three-dimensional render is then brought into an image editing program where it is treated as one “pass” of a multiple composite image. Digital art, and the use of geometrics in virtual space, is analogous to the hidden scaffolding present in Cezanne’s later paintings, which was, as I see it, further explored by the Cubists and Futurists by the use of plural viewpoints and the exploitation of the picture plane.


Cezanne’s Magic Eye
by Ruth Armitage, Tualatin OR, USA


“Night Club”
original painting, 20 x 26 inches
by Ruth Armitage

This is fascinating stuff. When reading your letter, I thought “Aha! Finally a way to understand Cezanne’s genius!” But when viewing the painting maps, all I could think of was those “magic eye” posters that were so popular a few years back. I just can’t see it. Now I’m trying to decide if it is my vision that is deficient, or if Dewain Boyce is just like many art critics: a big talker, trying to make himself sound intelligent. I wish his article had talked more about how he sees the maps. Does he visualize the cones in 3 dimensions by looking at the color? Is it the line that leads the way to finding them? I am stretching my imagination to the utmost, but still can’t see the connection.


Cezanne transcendent of subject matter
by Alan Soffer, Wallingford, PA, USA


original artwork
by Alan Soffer

What a wonderful way to start my day, hearing about the way great representational work is strengthened by the underlying structure of abstract geometric forms. More importantly, though, is the fact that Cezanne made his way by honing the process and proving once again that perspiration will win out over inspiration. One of the reasons we value this work is that it transcends the obvious subject matter, and probably led to our present day approach of expressionist and non-objective subject matter.


Emperor’s new clothes
by Jamie McDonald Gray, Calgary, AB, Canada


original glass artwork
by Jamie McDonald Gray

Although I can see how it may be true that Cezanne used intentional structural scaffolding in his work (and what artist doesn’t really, in one way or another), when I went to look at the examples you provided of Cezanne’s paintings with the shapes superimposed upon them I felt very skeptical. Because I suspect that instead of ellipses you could just as easily take cylinders or cones, find those shapes suggested in the structure of the painting and voila you’d see a bunch of that particular shape. Sous Bois with revealed ellipses is particularly suspect to me — I see more triangular than elliptical shapes myself. Plus, where exactly is the structure and harmony in how those ellipses have been laid out? Is this a case of theoretical “spin”? Or the emperor’s new clothes maybe.


More emperor’s new clothes
by Suzette Fram, Mapel Ridge, BC, Canada


“Feeling Blue”
abstract painting
by Suzette Fram

I wonder how much time Mr. Boyce has spent drawing shapes where there were none. It seems like a lot of nonsense to me. These shapes appear to have been drawn completely arbitrarily with no real basis to them at all. They could be drawn anywhere on the painting. Frankly, I don’t get it. I don’t see where he gets these shapes from and I don’t see how these shapes provide “structural integrity or harmony.” Seems to me more like a case of ‘the emperor’s new clothes.’ If an expert says something exists, then everyone agrees with him for fear of appearing ignorant. I find the whole thing to be nonsense, and quite pointless. I hope this is not his life’s work.


Still more emperor’s new clothes
by Pepper Hume, Spring, TX, USA


by Pepper Hume

Sorry, I don’t buy it. I’ve studied Mr. Boyce’s cones and the paintings without them and I don’t see the “clues” he sees for placing them. His cone placements seem totally arbitrary and unrelated to the colors, forms, or images. I need some sense of how he discerns the placement of these cones… surely Cezanne didn’t scatter them willy-nilly like so many scraps of paper dropped on the canvas. If Cezanne used these cones for scaffolding, wouldn’t there be a sense of structural relationship among them? Wouldn’t that relationship harmonize with the image? The point of scaffolding is to support, not rattle around independently of the image. I understand the concept of distilling shapes and forms into geometrics and then building a pictorial reality upon that… I use it myself in figure drawing and sculpting. I have also seen how an underlying line or shape can exist across various objects or color changes across a canvas. I recall a seascape painter (whose name escapes me) who carried the lines of a sail or a shadow on to the edges of the canvas with a change of color. His brushwork had a Monet quality of dabs of color working together. Granted, this scaffolding was clearly obvious in the final image, but he could well have implied other shapes within his color. But Boyce’s secret, invisible cones smack of an emperor’s new clothes. An interesting premise but not very edifying, if not downright obfuscating.


Art nothing without ‘Heart’
by Nikki Coulombe, Lewisville, TX, USA


“Male Cardinal”
acrylic painting, 24 x 24 inches
by Nikki Coulombe

That someone is serious about “stating a case” with “in-depth research” and is actually trying to prove that Cezanne, or any other master, did not already know the basics is preposterous. Questioning whether he was consciously applying knowledge is ridiculous; of course he was, if only by way of practice and experience. Sometimes Art logic becomes so far removed from the real thing, and I can hardly believe what I’m reading! To summarize and combine comments I’ve wanted to make to a few of the recent clickbacks: without Heart, Art is nothing because it maintains and is the origin of enthusiasm — but without structure Art is only chaos and is not enough to grab the viewer and maintain their enthusiasm. (Without proof we’ll all progress just fine).


Impressionism still being promoted
by Alex Nodopaka, Lake Forest, CA, USA


“I Wish I Hadn’t Sold These at the Garage Sale”
by Alex Nodopaka

What disturbs me most is Impressionism, after some 150 years, still being at the forefront of what is stale representative art. Despite having held the stage for this long, too many contemporary writers, however indirectly, still promote Impressionism by reference. I am guilty of it myself. Such doings explain its longevity. Popularity still rules, that’s why it is named popular and therefore common and it is lowering instead of raising the common denominator for art making or selling.





Forgetting the illusion of reality
by Frank Armistead, Regina, SK, Canada


“Still Life with Skull”
oil painting
by Paul Cezanne

In the classic The New Cezanne by Charles Biederman, he gives the understanding that Cezanne, in his later works, had come to identify with the painting itself as a flat plane and attempted to represent the complexity of the subjects he painted as the planes that they presented which were facing the viewer — as if rounded or receding shapes were flat forms when brought to the surface of the painting. This meant that the painter should forget about trying to create an illusion of reality and focus instead upon seeing what was before him/her as a complexity of flat interlocking planes on the surface of the canvas. He was also intrigued by the use of warm and cool tones to create a sense of balance and depth. No doubt Cezanne used all sorts of compositional techniques, including the geometrics. One he really was expert with was creating harmony and balance with color. I’m sure I’m about to learn a lot more.


Misunderstandings add new energy
by David Schwindt, Tucson, AZ, USA


“Rio Grande Estate”
oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches
by David Schwindt

I, too, am one of those painters forever fascinated by the works of Cezanne. One of my favorite quotes comes from a Cezanne scholar, Lawrence Gowing, in The Logic of Organized Sensations, a chapter in the book edited by William Rubin, Cezanne, The Late Work. He states, “One might write the history of that order of originality which this century identifies as the essence of art—and eventually it must be written—as a history of inveterate misunderstanding. We cannot claim that the view of Delacroix that inspired Cezanne represented a true evaluation of him. The guiding star that Cezanne followed shone far more steadily than the flawed jewel of Romanticism ever did. And Delacroix himself, how shallow his interpretation of Rubens! Then Rubens—was not his merely sensuous appreciation of physical rhythms as the basis of style a gross misconstruction of the philosophical meaning that the human body held for Michelangelo? And so on… Yet this succession of creative misunderstandings was as nothing by comparison with the way that the twentieth century used Cezanne. The interpretations to which his example was subjected in the years after 1906 converted art into something new, something he would certainly have accepted even less than he accepted Gauguin, an order of image and a function of style neither of which had ever existed before.” So I say, more power to those who continue to draw from tradition and the work of other artists. May their misunderstandings also add new energy to our contemporary body of work we call ART.


Symphonic movement observed
by Dan Auerbach, Bronx, NY, USA


“Apples Peaches Pears and Grapes”
oil painting
by Paul Cezanne

I’m a long-time student of Cezanne’s work. He did have a color approach to his work and did talk about reducing things to their basic shapes: spheres, cones, cylinders and cubes… which he did do so well. Master painters throughout history have been great spatial designers and Cezanne carried on that tradition. His own vision of that tradition uses strong warm and cool colors contrasted with neutralized colors, the reduction of objects into their solid geometric forms and, importantly, the control of the “planes” on those massive objects, by the control of the play of light… that is his magic. I looked at Mr. Boyce’s analysis and, as a painter, totally disagree with his findings. Any artist examining and studying composition throughout the history of art would find Mr. Boyce’s analysis alien to the construction of paintings. In the overall pictorial design of paintings we find the very deliberate use of closed or open forms such as triangles, rectangles or sweeping “C” or “S” shapes, “X” shapes… these are not small imbedded “hidden” forms but gross design schemes within which other movements take place. In the great works you’ll find successful two dimensional design overlaying “3” dimensional space. It is true that certain old masters used the Greek’s Golden Rule to partition space, and also true that you find 3rd rate painters who used these same proportional rules exactly, to no avail, producing dead work, work without that magic. Rather than looking for hidden ovals and cones in Cezanne’s work, Mr. Boyce should allow himself to be swept through the non-hidden forms that perform symphonic movement of masses, planes, and color, so solidly perceived and executed.


Corruption by analysis
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA


“White Shawl”
oil on canvas, 18 x 16 inches
by Rick Rotante

The “genius” of Cezanne has always eluded me. I understand from reading volumes on the Impressionists of the time, he was the granddaddy of painters to those who painted during his period. I’ve looked at his work and I don’t see a “genius” lurking there. Your comments about hidden circles, cones, rectangles is amusing at best. Every artist from childhood started drawing circles, cones and rectangles. My first drawing experience 55 years ago was from a morning television show by the artist John Negy, who started everyone with these shapes. He spent many sessions telling us about core shadows, reflected light and all this IS the basis of all objects every artist paints since the caveman. Artists from Michelangelo to Velazquez to Andy Warhol have painted images all based on circles, cones and rectangles. Without being mundane, a head is based on a circle, an arm is based on a rectangle. In a previous email response I commented on the basis of sound drawing technique. Fundamentally, all good drawing is based on these shapes in one form or another. Good design is based on these shapes. Enough of Cezanne “hiding” these shapes within his paintings. We are all hiding these shapes within our paintings. So, having established this, let’s move on to “seeing beyond the image.” I believe Cezanne falls short here again. While I find his “technique” interesting, I don’t find it satisfying or earth shattering or groundbreaking in execution. Many of his still lifes are wonderful to look at but I feel he may have been experimenting and never quite got it right. These paintings are what we see today and have come to think are an approach or method and see something that is simply not there. Whenever anyone today questions a noted “master” of the past, we are vilified. It’s slander to question artists that have reached a level of note. But life and art is about questioning. All we do today is based on the past and artists that have come before. New art movements have been created because of artists questioning their peers. The Ashcan artists rebelled against the past. The Impressionists rebelled, The Renaissance happened because artists rebelled. Russian art today is a rebellious response to the oppression of Communism. I believe artists in particular have been brainwashed. Many have stopped thinking and have succumbed to being told what and who is a genius. In fact the words “master” and “great” are so overused as to be meaningless. Cezanne’s contribution to art will be debated ad infinitum and that is a good thing. I just want to add my two cents into the pot for the other side. As much as I have incalculable respect for the artists of the past, I don’t consider Cezanne to be among the uppermost crust. If we are to look at Cezanne, we have to do so without rose colored glasses and examine truthfully not what history tells us but what our eyes and hearts and knowledge and experience tell us. Every artist should be appreciated and understood for their contribution to art itself. Without art, life would be a dark shadow of a hollowed out tree.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Cezanne’s Ghosts



From: Karen R. Phinney — Oct 12, 2007

I’m sorry, I must be a thickee, but I couldn’t see those geometric shapes revealed in the art of Cezanne! I too have been fascinated by his work, and there is geometry in it, but it seems more planar to me, at least in some of the images. How does Dewain decide where the cones are in the fruit still life? Or those cylindrical shapes in the landscape? I stared at them but couldn’t make out how he placed them where he did. Please elaborate! I enjoy the letters and answers, too. Karen in Halifax

From: Mary Wood — Oct 12, 2007

Wow! A whole new concept to struggle through. I wish that I were in front of the actual Cezanne works to think through this rather esoteric stuff. At first sight, it’s very difficult to see where Boyce is finding all of these geometric shapes underlying the paintings, but – as with all learning experiences – the longer you look, the more they become apparent – as does the rhythm and movement created by their placement throughout the pictorial space. Methinks I have a whole new area of study to explore in the next few months while I recover from an accident that is keeping me from painting. Armed with the ideas and a printout of his pages, I can visit galleries and museums to view great works from another critical point of view thereby continuing on my painting journey and, also, provide my students with something else to confuse them!!!

From: Anonymous — Oct 12, 2007

I don’t see Dewain’s shapes, either – where does he find the bases of those icecream cone shapes? At the same time, when I was in school (early 1950s) my profs emphasized the geometric shapes within a painting that led the eye around the surface, or made the push-pull dramatic. This doesn’t seem to be part of curriculae any more…but I’m not in school now, either.

From: Alcina Nolley — Oct 12, 2007

I do not see the evidence that outlines these cones. I don’t see directional lines, value areas, dark points, or light points that would lead my subconcious or concious eye to realize these cones. But I do feel that there is an underlying structure that gives weight to Cezanne’s compositions. But it doesn’t seem to be these cones. I can’t see them no matter how long I look. What is it that ‘makes’ these cones?

From: Dar Hosta — Oct 12, 2007

Like Alcina, I cannot see the cones or the ovals as they are laid out by Boyce and I really tried. I adore Cezanne’s work and my feeling is that the structure of cones he admitted to seeing in his own work was so personal and self-specific that it may be something not viewable or diagrammable by others. More metaphorical, something seen by his “third eye,” perhaps. As an artist, I know I have my own vision of composition but that it is even difficult to put into words for myself. We all have ways of structuring our work, but I find the cones and ovals that Boyce has laid over his work to be a silly bunch of academic deconstructionalist hooey. And, really, who cares?

From: Paul — Oct 12, 2007

Statistically: “Masters of their art” have failed more than others. Persistence after failure can be esoteric, academic, technical…. Some people toss the word failure out of the English language and are forever mediocre.

From: Anonymous — Oct 12, 2007

It’s all a load. Those shapes aren’t really there…you could find those shapes in any painting…….unless there’s something that I’ve really really missed the boat on.

From: Julie Roberts — Oct 12, 2007

I would like to see Cezanne’s works in the clickback, without the geometric overlays, shown right next to the overlaid ones. Then it might be more possible to see why those cones went where they did.

From: Ada M. Passaro — Oct 12, 2007

Doesn’t Dewain Boyce have anything better to do?

From: Norma E. HOYLE — Oct 12, 2007

I must confess, try as I might, I am at a loss to perceive more than one or two of the supposed diagrams as overlaid on Cezanne’s work. It is therefore tempting to dismiss the whole as vain imaginings; yet you, Robert, appear to have accepted Dewain Boyce’s findings as valid. Can you possibly explain to those of us with blinders on, what we are missing when (for example) one’s own eye perceives squares rather than cones…?

From: Bobbe Bergen Dennis — Oct 12, 2007

I will forever be grateful to that college painting professor who,each week, made the class diagram and trace the shapes and rhythms of 50-75 paintings of major artists of the past. Cezanne became one of my all-time favorites through the annoyance of what I considered “busy work” at the time.

From: Doane — Oct 12, 2007

I had a wonderful book back in the 1960’s on Cezanne, by Earl Lorane, artist and writer. I can’t imagine anyone going any furthur then he did and he is known as the authority on this master and birth of modern art. Loran is best known for his scene paintings from the 1930’s and 40’s and his book – Cezanne’s Compositions – now in its tenth printing. Loran came under the tutelage of early modernist Hans Hoffman at Berkeley in the 1930’s and later taught Bay Area greats including Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff and Sam Francis. Born in Minnesota, Loran’s talent was recognized early when he won the Paris Prize in 1926 which entitled him to study in Paris for two years. The trip would prove a turning point in Loran’s life. In Paris he saw the works of Picasso and other European modernists. But it was Cezanne’s works that captured his heart. His fascination with that Post Impressionist master led him on a three-year odyssey through Cezanne country where Loran painted and photographed the countryside around Aix en Provence. So closely did he identify with Cezanne, that Loran arranged to live in his old house for three years. It was this experience that formed the basis for his later book Cezanne’s Composition – a classic and still used in college classrooms today. Doane

From: Theresa Bayer — Oct 12, 2007

I see different shapes in the Cezannes than Boyce does. It’s like looking into clouds or an ink blot, we’re all going to see our own interpretations.

From: Susan Flaig — Oct 12, 2007

Try as hard as I can, I do not perceive with my eyes and logic the cones and geometrical shapes that Boyce alludes to in his theories about Cezanne’s paintings. They appear to me, for the most part, to be absolutely random, and I would place them in totally different places. I think this is far-fetched and over-analysed. Perhaps let’s stick with what Cezanne quoted about his own work and leave it at that. But, of course, everything is subject to personal interpretation and this provides us with thoughts that provoke creative stimulus, and thankfully we all see things differently.

From: George Robertson — Oct 12, 2007

Cezanne’s Ghosts, I am reminded of the (apocryphal) story of the university creative writing class where a budding author was expounding on the sexual references (snakes, caves, etc) he had unearthed in the book under discussion. When he proudly finished his lengthy clinical expose the professor wearily replied, “My Dear Sir, everything is either round or long.” I have a poster of “Nature Morte aux fruits et pot de gingembre” hanging in my studio. Whether he used cylinders or Fruit Loops, Cezanne was an intuitive genius whose emotions cry out to me every day. I have no desire to paint like him, only to feel as he did.

From: Patricia Edie — Oct 12, 2007

Sorry but I have to agree with Karen R. Phinney. I don’t understand either why those cones and cylinders are drawn where they are; it looks to me very randomly drawn by Dewain. I have seen much better examples of his cubes and geometrical forms where nothing has to be drawn, you can simply notice it without any effort.

From: Robert Bissett — Oct 12, 2007

Cezanne was not the first to use geometric motifs to add structural strength to his compositions. The shapes that can be used for this purpose are not limited to those suggested by Dewain. The analysis needs to be expanded to include the whole of the two dimensional surface. Cezanne’s paintings show an integration of all component parts into a series of rhythmic relationships forming an artist whole. The magic of Cezanne’s work lies in successful unification. This is true of any painting that is a work of art. Unification is the main quality that separates the accomplished artist from the beginner. Imbedding cones or other geometric shapes in one’s work will not in itself insure unification. I recommend David Friend’s book, ‘Composition, A Painter’s Guide to Basic Problems and Solutions’, Watson-Guptill, 1975. Bob Bissett

From: Doane — Oct 12, 2007

I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy Dewain’s analysis. It really doesn’t make any sense to have a bunch of cones or other geometric shapes pointing all different directions and they look like they could just as well be placed in a multitude of different arrangements. It reminds me of The Emperor’s New Clothes story. Where as, Lorain’s work (above) makes it quite clear, crystal clear, what is going on and why Cezanne used the overlapping planes and multiple view points to create movement, tension, lead the eye, etc.

From: Julz — Oct 12, 2007

From my perspective, Boyce is seeing cones and cylinders where much more subtle rhythmic elements exist. His work is bogus but it stimulated thought and discussion, didn’t it?

From: Kate Evans — Oct 13, 2007

I am glad I read the comments. I thought I couldn’t see the shapes because I was a beginner –or just stupid. I am getting the Friend book. thanks

From: Wendy Newbold Patterson — Oct 14, 2007

Dewain Boyce is working too hard and missing the obvious about the source of Cezanne’s power–a careful, serious Study of Nature! No doubt there is a “scaffolding” of intelligent composition in Cezanne’s paintings, but it is not the arbitrary structure of shapes that Dewain Boyce describes. Cezanne’s cones, cubes and cylinders were from a study of how LIGHT reveals FORM. A language of color, lines and tones was his method to express the three-dimensional volume on a two-dimensional surface. It is a language that is an honest, direct confrontation with nature and the “wall,” and not a fabrication of “ghosts,” smoke and mirrors that has plagued the academy, then and now. Wendy Newbold Patterson Gray, Maine

From: Mary Wood — Oct 15, 2007

Have been re-examining Boyce’s shapes and realize that some of them seem to define negative space; however, on some of the paintings, there does seem to be no reason at all for Boyce’s placement of them; hence my wish to see the originals with his diagrams in hand.

From: Anita — Oct 15, 2007

When I was taking classes at the U of Iowa we were required to copy a famous painter’s work. What I felt when I was doing my Cezanne copy was that there was something very wierd with his perspective. Had to go through many “Hey, wait a minutes” before I was finished.

From: Loretta J (Retta) — Oct 15, 2007

To cone or not to cone…is that the question??? Why do we feel compelled to dissect the works of Cezanne and every other breathing or deceased artist to try to discover the method to their techniques? As artists, why can’t we simply enjoy or detest or have no opinion if we find a work too lackluster to comment on? If we are artists, does that also make us art critics? And, if so, does that mean we can critique the works of others just because we can critique ourselves? And, if we cannot critique ourselves…hum…’nuff said!!! Art is life for some. Art brings light into a sometimes drab reality! Art is a Gift from the Divine and anyone who can evoke a sense of pleasure with a created piece of artwork the way Cezanne did and still does, certainly doesn’t worry as to whether or not geometry was consciously or unconsciously involved in the creation thereof! Cezanne was about color interplay and a whole lot more! If he thought about conical configurations, fine. If he didn’t, that is perfectly ok, also! Let us simply enjoy his creativity and celebrate it! Is it really necessary to put it under a microscope like a bug in a lab experiment????? I think NOT! This whole discussion rather reminds me of a junior high school art class back in the day………..and a bored young art teacher who was trying to instill art appreciation into the hearts and minds of a group of kids, who, by and large, didn’t give a rat’s patoot for things deemed cultural!!!! The art teacher, clad in her best beatnik attire, would throw artsy terms around and prattle on about the “dead” guys……….and we would yawn. I LOVE the newsletter, the books, etc. and the website!!! I love the works of Cezanne and most of the Impressionists. I just think this particular discussion is a bit like straining at gnats……

From: Faith Puleston — Oct 16, 2007

Genius is incomprehensible. Dissect a rose and put it back together! All that consternation about a theorist’s peoccupation with how to do it. Wow! Of course, there is geometry in the smallest atom, in every single snowflake. Nanotechnology has revealed a world that was there long before we were and will no doubt survive us all. Art is, in my view, a striving for something “outside the box”. Let’s just get on with it and not worry about the geometry. The eye of the beholder shall judge the results. A rose by any other name …

From: Sidney Chambers — Oct 16, 2007

Oscar Wilde once said “It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information”. He should be alive today, there is a veritable glut of the stuff.

From: Tina Steele Lindsey — Oct 16, 2007

If I said I saw them, it would be as if I saw the emporer’s clothes.

From: Brian Warner — Oct 16, 2007

I find the formatting of this session of clickbacks and comments most confusing. Please go back to the way they have been in the past. I’m a simple person.

From: Helen Zapata — Oct 16, 2007

This does my heart good. I wrote to you of how absurd I found Boyce’s examples. I got a good laugh out of it. I DO believe in a good foundation under the work, and I do love hidden shapes that support the work. But all I could do was chuckle at the random placement of cones in the examples. Was this a test? Probably not, although it would have been a good one. But I am thrilled to pieces to see artists everywhere who are not afraid to speak out against “the Emperor’s New Clothes”. We aren’t so easily fooled.

From: Sheila Minifie — Oct 16, 2007

I have found David Friend’s book ‘Composition’ invaluable, where he shows clearly the hidden geometric compositions of master artists of all kinds. They are much more convincing than these mysterious cones of Dewain. The abstract qualities within all good and great art are, he believes, arrived at consciously, but DELIVERED intuitively. This is because we have an inherent need for mathematical structures and that they express our emotions underneath the more manual expressiveness. In art colleges and elsewhere it seems to have been generally thrown out as something too old fashioned for contemporary art, but I value it and I believe that it has helped my own work considerably.

From: Jill Paris Rody — Oct 16, 2007

Oh my! I find this sort of analysis of art a big waste of time. I’d learn more about Cezanne by looking at his work directly, not looking at the study of someone else looking at his work. I’d rather work from nature, and paint the rhythm of Form, light and color that blesses my senses directly. Is it tricks of the trade that make our Art ‘good’, or is it a Voice greater than “I” that speaks to the heart?

From: Sam Liberman — Oct 16, 2007

Perhaps the cones etc, explain in part why some of us have never had much interest in Cezanne. Despite his exciting use of color, which is all important to me, I have found many of his paintings kind of blocky and lacking in grace and rythm to the point of walking by without much of a second glance. Probably I am the only loser in this, but we like what we like, and I think I will try to avoid geometric shapes except if there appears to be a need for them. I will add this to the list of things to look for when a painting seems to be going wrong.

From: Sara J. Chambers — Oct 16, 2007

“Scaffolding” implies a structure that supports something. Cones and other geometric shapes are just that–shapes. They are elements of design but do NOT support the painting. They may, indeed, support the creation of shapes and rhythm within a painting. There must be an underlying abstract structure to support the painting.

From: Liz — Oct 16, 2007

Cezanne illuminated not only the planes, but, more importantly, their aspect in space. He paints object and space the same, as if made of the same substance. This concept is the basis of the analytical cubism that was to follow.

From: Gayle Gerson — Oct 16, 2007

I teach art and composition and have always used one of Cezanne’s Mont St. Victoire paintings as an example of the use of shape as a compositional element. The shapes in these inspiring works are self-revelatory. The shapes in Dewain Boyce’s super-impositions(pun intended) seem quite arbitrary and contrived. I wonder what Monsieur Cezanne would think!

From: Pat Weekley — Oct 16, 2007

I agree with the comments by Suzette Fram and Pepper Hume. Art is to be enjoyed and not picked apart… some tend to analyze art to death. Various angles and structures are useful in planning a composition that works but don’t get so hung up on them!

From: Bob Ragland — Oct 16, 2007

Dang! How does one know what an artist intended? If the work appeals to one’s eye that’s all that matters in my opinion. This kind of talk reminds me of art critics who never tried to make painting or drawing.

From: Roy Boston — Oct 16, 2007

I would think that the late Ed Whitney would have had quite a lot to say about the comment on this clickback – Ed was a leader of design in paintings and his pupils many and famous.

From: Emily Johnson — Oct 17, 2007

I do so love all the letters and comments by everyone, but I have to still say “I don’t get it” Why can’t we just enjoy enjoy and enjoy the work of a wonderful artist who saw the world in a very special way.

From: Maureen Glynn — Oct 18, 2007

Looking for Cezanne’s “hidden cones” unaided I did learn to see cones although they did not necessarily co-incide with the Dewain’s illustration. The excercise reminded me of learning to spot whales on my first outing. We can either learn to see what we are told to see, or wait for the brain “at rest” to create the pattern, then we can detect or impose the pattern on what we are looking at.

From: John Smith — Oct 18, 2007

The people who were saying that they didn’t get Dewain Boyce’s research weren’t saying that there was no hidden scaffolding or that the entire idea of hidden scaffolding was no good, just that Dewain Boyce seemed to have no method in his madness. It seems to me that all the published responses for this new letter have totally new opinions, and say Cezanne’s scaffolding all along. I think they all these people are just trying not to look stupid, when in fact; changing your opinion in an attempt to not look stupid is what makes you look stupid. Man your guns, stick to your beliefs, have a spine!

From: Dan Writtwood — Oct 18, 2007

Dear John, changing you opinion doesn’t make you look stupid, it shows that you are able to learn and grow. …not checking your grammar on the other hand….that makes you look stupid.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Oct 19, 2007

About the discussion of Boyce’s post-analysis of Cezanne: I don’t think the question is about whether or not Cezanne used structure. As many have pointed out, of course he did. Nor is it about whether or not an underlying structure is a necessary part of art. It is, and again, as others have pointed out, some come to it intuitively, while others work to learn it (and some of us do both, using principles to help us learn how to better understand and respond to intuition–yes, Composition 101. I am still using what I learned, and still learning. The question here is simply whether there is any merit in Boyce’s application of a theory of cones in Cezanne’s work. Nope. It is nonsensical– I can’t see that the so-called cones are related in any way to the actual underlying structure of Cezanne’s work.

From: Alicia — Oct 19, 2007

It’s fascinating to realize that both Cezanne and Picasso, each with entirely different results, have obviously used geometry in the construction of their work. After reading David W. Galenson’s book, Painting Outside The Lines, I think I finally understand the difference in approaches between, say, a Cezanne and a Picasso. According to the author, Cezanne was an experimental painter, working out his ideas as he painted. Never quite satisfied, always searching for a technique. Picasso on the other hand, was a conceptual painter, having formulated his entire work before his brush touched the canvas. The execution of the painting to him was perfunctory. A collaborator, he was reported as saying: “If I telegraph one of my canvases to New York, any house painter should be able to do it properly”. Both valid approaches, no?

From: Dewain Boyce — May 03, 2008

Sir Francis Bacon ushered us into the world of science by claiming that proof needs more than words. It needs physical evidence that can be tested by others. To test the hidden geometry theory you must make a template and apply it as shown of the GRID page. Then, and only then, will words have meaning beyond their sweet sound in your ear. If you’re having trouble seeing the “ghosts”, or want to talk about them, I’m dewainboyce@cezannesgeometry.net

From: Reidh — Aug 22, 2010

cezanne has hidden actual faces, some self portraits, at least in his later works. Look for them (all art is autobiographical) they’re there.

From: Woodrow — Sep 28, 2012







Expulsion of Eve

wooden Sculpture, 15.7 inches tall
by Paul Herman, Arcos de la Frontera, Spain


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Angela Treat Lyon of Kailua, HI, USA who wrote, “Oh, please! If Cezanne had really spent all that time on all those geometric shapes he’d never have had the time to paint. What mental hooey. Dewain should pick up a brush and start painting and seeing if he can really see how an artist sees. Maybe he’d paint more than geometrics. Good grief.”

And also Paul Kane of Bloomington, IN, USA who wrote, “Only Cezanne knew what he was trying to do. It was something about the way he was trying to combine the action of the brush with the creation of a visual image, with the realization of an underlying structure. No one has inspired more of the very greatest artists.”

And also Leni Friedland of Mt. Sinai, NY, USA who wrote, “I am always leery about historians on painting and biographical writers putting more into paintings than what is really there. No one knows what goes on in an artist’s head while painting, no matter what little quotes are confiscated from letters or other books. Yeah… I am very cynical about any interpretation of fine art since art is really so subjective.”

And also Adria Klausner who wrote, “I highly recommend the contemporary movie: Goya’s Ghosts.”

And also Selwyn Owen of Toronto, ON, Canada who wrote, “In a Cezanne retrospective in Philadelphia I perceived the cones, ovals and geometric lines of perspective in three different works. They made the difference from just a landscape to really strong, enjoyable, indeed almost hypnotic works.”

And also John Lathrop who wrote, “Your elucidation helped me understand this better, a simple but brilliant explanation of Dewain’s thoughts.”

And also Blanche Raphael Weinberger of Dallas, TX, USA who wrote, “I’m sorry but I felt the cone, etc. shapes overlaid in black on the Cezanne work were simply in someone’s imagination. Looking closely at the work I saw none of the supposed shapes… the work may have had them but not where the writer imposed them. The ‘study’ is worthless.”

And also Robert Bissett of Naples, ID, USA who wrote, “I recommend David Friend’s book, Composition, A Painter’s Guide to Basic Problems and Solutions, Watson-Guptill, 1975.”

And also Joseph Guggino who wrote, “Cezanne’s paintings aren’t so much about painting as they are meditations on the nature of reality.”

And also Sarah Wood of Simcoe, ON, Canada who wrote, “Today’s letter is just so interesting and well written that I feel compelled to thank you. Since beginning my subscription to your Twice-Weekly Letter I have been alternately entertained, educated, and amused by your letters. But today’s letter is brilliant. Your letter has to be one of the best offerings on the Internet!”

And also Peggy Small of Gibsons, BC, Canada who wrote, “I didn’t know there was a “Fools Day” in October. Surely you’re putting us on, Robert!”

And also Barbara Haddad who wrote, “All you painters are nutz.”




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