Léo Marchutz – a Painter in the Centre of Early Cézanne Research
Agnes Blaha, University of Vienna
From around 1933 onwards, painter Léo Marchutz, in cooperation with art historians John Rewald and Fritz Novotny, began to catalogue and photograph the landscapes painted by Paul Cézanne. The important role Léo Marchutz played for their attempts to use photography for the scholarly purposes of art history and in the development of a network of Cézanne researchers interested in this methodological approach can be reconstructed in detail from their correspondence. In addition to the possibilities these documents offer for a historiographic study of the development of early research in modern art, Marchutz’ work can also be seen as an example for the often underestimated reciprocal influences between creative practice and art historic research.
Léo Marchutz, born 1903 in Nuremberg, began his artistic career as an autodidact. In his early years, Cézanne’s art which Marchutz got to know by an exhibition held at the gallery of Bruno Cassierer in Berlin in 1921 and through his visits at the Neue Pinakothek in Munich influenced his view of the possibilities and purposes of art. In his later autobiographical statements, Marchutz’ stressed the importance of his early contacts to Cézanne’s art for his rejection of academic training as an artist and his decision to develop his own style through the individual study of other artists’ works in museums (Châtelet 19). Inspite of this early fascination for Cézanne, it was rather through coincidences that Marchutz began his investigation of Cézanne’s motives, a work which he should continue throughout his whole life. Marchutz first came to Aix-en-Provence in 1928, when his later wife, Anna Kraus, offered him this journey for his help with selling a picture by Cézanne. When they decided to visit the Château Noir, they made the acquaintance of a coachman who had been working for Cézanne and therefore knew some of Cézanne’s favorite places where he regularly went to paint. It seems plausible that this coachman gave the decisive impulse to look out for these places. Arrived at the Château Noir, Marchutz spontaneously decided to rent a small apartment in Cézanne’s old residence, a decision which clearly hints at the enthusiasm he felt for his self-chosen artistic role model. This enthusiasm can also be discerned in Marchutz’ paintings from the first years he spent in Aix, where he definitively settled down in 1931. His landscape paintings with views of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire and a number of still lives painted between 1928 and 1931 show, in spite of all existing differences in style, a deliberate proximity to Cézanne, which already can be seen in the choice of subjects typically associated with Cézanne. Additionally, his interpretation shows the intention to imitate some formal characteristics, especially concerning the creation of volume through large colored patches, an intention that becomes even more obvious when these pictures are compared with his paintings of the Mount Sainte-Victoire from the 1960s, which are in all aspects much more typical for the personal style he had developed.