Scene III:
Cézanne’s Muse

[This folio contains two woodcuts 8 3/4” x 8” (22,5 x 20,5 cm) and 8 3/4” x 10 3/4” (22,5 x 27,5 cm) created by Tony Calzetta and printed by hand in black ink from woodblocks on Japanese fantasy paper by Dieter Grund at Presswerk Editions.

The woodcuts are tipped onto two foldouts that have text on image digitally printed on 320 gm Stonehenge paper with Epson Ultra Chrome K-3 permanent inks at the artist’s studio.

The two foldouts are mounted on a cover of paper handmade by the Papeterie Saint-Armand in Montréal, Québec, Canada containing crushed leaves and poppies gathered by the artist from the garden of Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence, France.

The cover containing the two foldouts sits in a multi-coloured cloth wrapped folio whose interior is lined with Fabriano Elle Erre coloured papers.]

[Add setting]

CÉZANNE (speaking about himself; or should this be the narrator, God, speaking?; same question applies to all the CÉZANNE parts): Cézanne, long-bearded even then, was startled one morning,
following goat tracks over his father’s old grounds, to see
his muse bent over a patch of earth, her back to him,
bare-legged, skirt bunched at the waist, white
bloomers billowing like flags hoisted
in a field. She was extracting dangerous
produce from the soil, not turnip, not radish,
nothing Cézanne – who was versed in these matters –
had ever seen:

curious oblong shapes that wriggled
between her fingers like angry fish.

MUSE: “Evil teeth,” she explained. “They bite.” And showed the
painter two bloodied hands, blood running down her
legs like stockings on a cancan girl.

CÉZANNE: In the afternoon, Cézanne painting,
the muse sat
contentedly on an upturned rusted bucket,
not so far removed that he didn’t know she was there:
her face upturned also, dropping the morning catch
one by one into her mouth – still alive! – airy bubbles
floating up from her mouth as she chewed:
whimpers and tiny shrieks,
the crack of bones, Cézanne’s held breath,
Licking blood from her fingers.

Something not quite right about that muse,
was Cézanne’s lonely thought.


HORTENSE: Cézanne’s wife that night slept her backside to him,
as was her custom after such summertime ploys,
this her sole mode of complaint,
being, on the whole, a sturdy, reliable sort – 
a musty, leaf-stamped woman, Pissarro said
of Hortense,
though not the dullard (those Salon) idiots might think.

Come 1868, again
(“insulting filth.”)

CÉZANNE (? or is this still Hortense speaking?): 1869 once more the axe.
Sisley and Monet, who else, in the same basket,
Mother of God, well holy fuck!

MUSE: Let’s go back to Aix, says the muse,
spurn these ignorant bastards,
never submit to that *##*ing Salon again,
the muse’s simmer a boiling resentment
tunnelling through cold fury.

CÉZANNE: Along the way the usual ladling of doubt – is it me, am I the cause? – resulting in a dazed frosty stare when walking, for instance, Louvre halls, a curdling in the gut unrelieved by breathless trot over untilled earth, in freezing wind, in rain, nights spent huddled with disgruntled swine.

Sunny April 1874 let’s stroll down the Boulevard des Capucines side by side with Cézanne, Degas, Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Pissarro, Boudin, and – look who’s here, a woman, if you please – wonderful

Berthe Morisot, for this renegade exhibit by the Société Anonyme des Artistes Peintres. Note the hysteria, the hostility: Pregnant women, do not enter. This monstrous work will cause damage to your unborn child.

ART CRITIC: Hear the critic from L’Artiste scornfully assessing Cézanne’s Olympia: “A nightmare. Does the painter suffer epileptic fits? Delirium tremens? I’m told he pushes his work through the city on a barrow.
A brooding nutcase, not unlike these others.”

Comes 1895, critical acclaim, “Paris captured with an apple,”
no thanks to those Salon rutters.

Look, there sits the wife, with parsed lips, the decaying rose
in the limp hand, Madame Cézanne in Red Dress, there’s
a self-portrait, Cézanne in Black Hat, there’s The Turning Road,
there, Five Bathers, cinders flaring from sundry burnings.

CÉZANNE: 20 October 1906
on road
to Lauves

two days later
age 67

No mention made of the beautiful old muse
mourning in the boughs of the nearby apple tree…
tearful there through the coming months and on into spring
when she became as one with the blossoming boughs.


Read on: Act I, Scene IV »
Go back: Table of Contents »

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.