Bergsonian Vitalism and the Landscape Paintings of Monet and Cézanne: Indivisible Consciousness and Endlessly Divisible Matter

The European Legacy 16 (7):883 - 898 (2011)
From around the year 1900, the ideal of the equivalence of art (form) and nature (animated matter) was challenged when two concurring principles?homogeneous duration and heterogeneous moments?started to manifest themselves in the discrete attempts of artists to integrate being into art. As creative approaches to the perception and representation of nature, these diametrically opposed configurations find expression in the writings of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, mainly between 1889 and 1907. The notion of living forms in permanent transition, informed by evolutionary theory, found its social expression in a growing urban dynamism. Subsequently, the obsolete epistemological Apollonian principle of a central perspective in painting, based on a timeless, static Newtonian space, gave way to the Dionysian ontological principle?radically questioning the unity of being and form in the creative process. Initially, this change was particularly evident in the paintings of Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne. While Monet envisions a homogeneous space of instantaneous time (the separate moment), Cézanne's distinctive Post-Impressionist dynamic representations of continuous becoming can be read as contemporary pictorial counterparts of the Bergsonian concepts of duration, memory, and vital force. Thus, Bergson's psycho-physiological principle of endurance, in which perceptions and memories of distinct physical phenomena interpenetrate multitudinously, gradually becomes a dominant feature in the works of numerous artists who inherit Monet's and, especially, Cézanne's aesthetic notions
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DOI 10.1080/10848770.2011.626191
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