On October 15, 1906, Cézanne climbed the winding road that led from his studio to his favorite lookout to paint his mountain, as he’d done a hundred times before. But while he worked, he was caught in a sudden thunderstorm and collapsed. A passerby found him and carried him, half conscious, back into town on a laundry cart. “I want to die painting,” he had told a friend. His last letter was to a dealer who supplied his paints. “It is now eight days since I asked you to send me ten burnt lakes no. 7 and I have had no reply,” he wrote. “Whatever is the matter? An answer and quick, please.” He died of pneumonia six days after writing the letter.
A year later, a major exhibition of Cézanne’s works opened at the Salon d’Autumne in Paris. Picasso, Braque and Matisse were among those crowding into the show—and stealing his secrets. But they would never steal his grandeur. Rilke, too, was there. “Not since Moses,” he wrote to his wife, “has anyone seen a mountain so greatly.”