Letters on Cézanne

Rainer Maria Rilke; Edited by Clara Rilke; Translated by Joel Agee

North Point Press



Trade Paperback

112 Pages



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Virtually every day in the fall of 1907, the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke returned to a Paris gallery to view an exhibition of works by Paul Cézanne. Nearly as frequently, he wrote rich and joyful letters to his wife, Clara Westhoff, expressing his awe before the paintings and his ensuing revelations about art and life.

Rilke was knowledgeable about art and had even published monographs, including a famous study of Rodin that inspired certain of his New Poems. But Cézanne's impact on him could not be conveyed in a traditional essay. Rilke's sense of kinship with Cézanne provides a powerful and prescient undercurrent in these letters—passages from them would subsequently appear verbatim in Rilke's great modernist novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Letters on Cézanne is a collection of meaningfully private responses to a radically new art.


Praise for Letters on Cézanne

"[This collection] says more about art than any other book I know . . . These letters distill the essence of what a painting truly is . . . The greatness of Cézanne could be conveyed only by an artist equally great."—Howard Moss, The New Yorker

"In the reverent and attentive Rilke, Cézanne recruited a writer with the right eyes for his work."—Harvey Blume, Art of New England

"[The letters] are themselves extraordinarily peaceful and concentrated, seeping with the sense and recognition of Cézanne's colors, in nature as on canvas, colors which seem a part of Rilke himself, of the words and paper."—John Bayley, The New York Review of Books

"Rilke makes the feeling and views around great art real, weaving into his letters the indescribable thing that gives us beauty, truth, pleasure."—Helen Frankenthaler, Art & Antiques

"Agee succeeds in capturing Rilke's instinct for language; we see the painter through Rilke's eyes as dedicated and committed to making paintings that stretch the viewer's imagination and capacity for devotion."—Ellen Bates, Library Journal

"The writing is clearly inspired, almost breathless."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

Reviews from Goodreads



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Letters On Cezanne

... seeing and working--how different they are here. Everywhere else you see, and think: later--. Here they're almost one and the same. You're back again:1 that's...

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  • Rainer Maria Rilke; Edited by Clara Rilke; Translated by Joel Agee

  • Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague in 1875 and traveled throughout Europe for much of his adult life, returning frequently to Paris. There he came under the influence of the sculptor Auguste Rodin and produced much of his finest verse, most notably the two volumes of New Poems as well as the great modernist novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Among his other books of poems are The Book of Images and The Book of Hours. He lived the last years of his life in Switzerland, where he completed his two poetic masterworks, the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. He died of leukemia in December 1926.

    Joel Agee has also translated Elias Canetti, Friedrich Dürenmatt, Gottfried Benn, and another collection of Rilke's letters, Rilke and Benvenuta: An Intimate Correspondence. He won the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize for his translation of Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea, a verse play. He is the author of Twelve Years: An American Boyhood in East Germany and lives in Brooklyn.