Form and Content
When the poet Rainer Maria Rilke returned to Paris in the spring of 1907 after a ten-month absence, he was in the midst of work on two prose projects: Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (1910; The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, 1930, 1958) and his two-part monograph Auguste Rodin (1903; English translation, 1919). These two works conveniently define the two sorts of growth to which Rilke bears witness in his Letters on Cezanne—growth as an artist and person, on the one hand, and, on the other, growth as an observer of art and, to some extent, as a critic. These letters also demonstrate the impossibility of separating in Rilke’s life the two kinds of growth: For him, critical observation finds its natural justification in personal insight, artistic self-discovery.
Letters on Cezanne comprises thirty-one missives of varying length, written in June, September, and October of 1907 to Rilke’s wife, Clara Westhoff Rilke. Although the letters were composed simply as letters—Rilke was always a prolific letter writer and at this time wrote to Clara daily, or nearly so—he toyed even while writing them with the idea of a more public exposition on Paul Cezanne’s work. Rilke feared, however, that his writing about Cezanne might be too subjective:It’s a mistake (and I have to acknowledge this once and for all) to think that one who has such private access to pictures is for that reason justified in...
(The entire section is 570 words.)