The founders of modern art often led exceptional lives and surely deserve memorable biographies, but there haven’t been many such good books, and I wonder why not? The first reason must be that triumphs in art do not easily translate into eloquent words. We appreciate with our eyes, not our pens. Paul Cézanne presents writers with an especial problem. More than with most artists, his canvases make us pause and reconsider. A visual poet of stillness, he calms the impulse to applaud, while the business of life goes on elsewhere, at a different pace. Thus the responses to his best painting tend to slow or even halt the biographer’s narrative.
Another reason for the lack of artists’ biographies is that significant painters have been well served by the museum system. The last half century has been a great age of retrospective exhibitions. Scholarly catalogues have accompanied the shows, with separate works individually described by more than one writer. Events in