Thoughts on a Painting by Paul Cezanne

“Portrait of the Artist’s Father Reading L’Evenement” by Paul Cezanne

“Thoughts on a Painting by Paul Cezanne” by Sharon Rauenzahn

The father sits, ankles crossed, eyes tilted down into his evening news. His brown shoes are sturdy, well-worn, the trousers look like work jeans, and maybe they were. He has strong fingers, a calm, serious face. You can’t tell, in this study by Paul Cezanne, whether his father smiled much, whether his eyes were bright when he lifted them from the paper. He wears a dark brown jacket over a button collar shirt. He’d be fashionable today, in San Jose or Seattle, cuffed work jeans, that dark jacket, a neat black cap pulled over his forehead. I imagine him with a cellphone, swiping past current events, past the horse race outcomes and the boxing scores, but who gets news like that anymore? Those belong to paper news, and my own childhood. What would he read instead? Imagine him giving a short grunt of a laugh at some silly photo of his grandson, tossing the phone down on a table that’s out of view, looking up, as he never looks up, hasn’t looked up for 150 years.

But that whole painting is a joke, I discover, according to my own phone of limitless knowledge. His father never read that paper, it’s the one Cezanne’s friend Emile Zola wrote for, who encouraged him to pursue art instead of banking. So picture the father again, coffee cup in hand, reading the Chronicle in Starbucks, where they still take a newspaper. Picture him a venture capitalist, confident and relaxed in his grey jeans, his work shoes, the white socks, his dark jacket and white cuffs, no tie, that neat cap, those strong hands holding the paper with two fingers. “You’ll never make any money,” he says. You might sell a Cezanne for $20 million these days, if the government lets you, but Snapchat sold itself for $33 billion this morning, for a company that makes disappearing photos. “You’re in the wrong line of work,” the old man says. He squints a little, eyes tilted down to his paper. I wonder if he needs reading glasses, but won’t wear them. 150 years reading that paper, and he never looks up.

March 2, 2017

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