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Interpreting Cézanne

Interpreting Cézanne

Sidney Geist

ISBN 9780674459557

Publication date: 11/15/1988

In this remarkable book the sculptor and writer Sidney Geist presents a revolutionary interpretation of the art of Cézanne. Geist argues that Cézanne's paintings are fertile with reflections of the artist's private world and passionate concerns. Looking at more than two hundred works, all reproduced in the book, he identifies the symbolism that gives form to a hidden significance in the paintings—concealed allusions to Cézanne himself and to his relations with his wife and mother, his father, his son, and his friend Zola, as well as a circle of colleagues including Pissarro, Frederic Bazille, and Ambroise Vollard. It is a complex pattern of symbols expressed in both secondary visual images and in verbal connections, including rebuses and puns. In reading these paintings for symbolic meaning Geist opens the way to a fuller understanding of Cézanne as well as to new ways of looking at pictures. Interpretation of this kind in its turn explains formal aspects of the paintings with a richness not possible in abstract analysis.


  • Even if there are only half the cryptomorphs he claims to have found…there will be an impressive body of data against which to rethink not just Cézanne himself, as man and mind and artist, but the meaning of art, the validity of formalism, the truth of pure painting… I think this is an important as well as a fascinating book.

    —Arthur C. Danto

Book Details

  • 312 pages
  • Harvard University Press