OIL PAINTING: Large Pine and Red Earth, 1897
A great, truly innovative painting such as Cezanne's "Large Pine and Red Earth," painted between 1890 and 1895, is hardly about geometric order and rational analysis. It's a glorious, nearly uninterpretable mess.
This painting doesn't clarify the underlying solid structures of the world. If anything, it obscures them. We've got a spider's web of branches, surrounded by such a froth of greenery that the picture would look almost as good -- and not so very different -- hung upside-down.
There's no more geometric order on the surface of this picture, as an abstract pattern, than there is in the scene it portrays, where a tree's leaves and the shrubs and grasses all around it seem to meld into a single wreath. Or rather, that messy surface seems to say something about the parallel messiness of nature herself. The Cezanne painting seems to argue for the irreducible complexity of reality, and of art, not for some simple system that might make sense of either one.
In fact, this painting helps explode the venerable notion that Cezanne is at heart a formalist, someone who cares much more about the surface look of his canvases than about the reality portrayed in them.