Works of Art as Images: On the Use of Site Photographs for the Study of Paul Cézanne’s Landscape Paintings

By Jorgelina Orfila.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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The widespread availability of photographs of works of art enabled the institutional formation of art history as a scholarly discipline. Serving as methodological tools to research, teach, and disseminate knowledge of art history, use of these photographs as “illustrations” has shaped the understanding of the art of the past, and has influenced the production and promotion of modern art. Arguing that the discipline’s dependence upon photographs has favored the interpretation of works of art as images that embody a transcendent historical or aesthetic meaning, this paper presents the analysis of a case study: the use of site photographs in the study of Paul Cézanne’s landscape paintings in the 1930s. In 1935, John Rewald and Léo Marschutz published the first of a series of articles in the art magazine L’Amour de l’art. Rewald’s work compared photographic reproductions of Cézanne’s landscapes to photographs of the sites the artist had represented in those paintings. The site photographs’ alleged epistemological value derived from their theoretical indexicality. As a normative component of art historical comparisons, they fostered interpretations of Cézanne’s art based on the reconstruction of the process through which the artist transformed his sensations into artistic notations. This methodological approach influenced not only the perception and interpretation of Cézanne’s paintings but also of the natural sites. This paper argues that art history’s methodological tools have shaped and still shapes our understanding of Cézanne’s landscape paintings.

Keywords: Site-photographs, Landscape, Paul Cézanne, John Rewald, Léo Marschutz, Photography and Art History, Interwar Period, Historiography of Art History

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.1-12. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.877MB).

Dr. Jorgelina Orfila

Assistant Professor in 20th/21st Century Art History and Critical Theory, School of Art, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, USA

Dr. Jorgelina Orfila, currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Art at Texas Tech University, earned undergraduate degrees in art history and museum studies in Argentina. Prior to coming to the United States, she served as the Head of the Department of Education of the National Museum of Fine Arts, Buenos Aires. From 1997 to 1999, she was a Lampadia Fellow in the Department of French Paintings at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington D.C. In 2007, she earned a Ph.D in art history from the University of Maryland. She is presently working on a book-length project that will examine the historiography of art history in the interwar period.