Paul Cézanne


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"Colour is the place where our brain and the universe meet"
Paul, 1905



Paul Cézanne
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Self Portrait in a Bowler Hat

1874, Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th-century conception of artistic endeavour to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Cézanne’s often repetitive, exploratory brushstrokes are highly characteristic and clearly recognizable. He used planes of colour and small brushstrokes that build up to form complex fields. The paintings convey Cézanne’s intense study of his subjects. Cézanne has inspired generations of modern artists. Generally categorized as a Post-Impressionist, his unique method of building form with color and his analytical approach to nature influenced the art of Cubists, Fauvists, and successive generations of avant-garde artists.

The Cézannes came from the town of Saint-Sauveur (Hautes-Alpes, Occitania). Paul Cézanne was born on 19 January 1839 in Aix-en-Provence. On 22 February, he was baptized in the Église de la Madeleine, with his grandmother and uncle Louis as godparents, and became a devout Catholic later in life. His father (1798–1886), a native of Saint-Zacharie (Varsace), was the co-founder of a banking firm (Banque Cézanne et Cabassol) that prospered throughout the artist’s life, affording him financial security that was unavailable to most of his contemporaries and eventually resulting in a large inheritance.

His mother, Anne Elisabeth Honorine Aubert (1814–1897), was "vivacious and romantic, but quick to take offense". It was from her that Cézanne got his conception and vision of life. He also had two younger sisters, Marie and Rose, with whom he went to a primary school every day. Cézanne’s art reflects a sheltered life.

The Bathers

1874, Paul Cézanne

The Bathers,

Cézanne’s boyhood in Provence was dominated by his father, a wealthy banker, and his friend Emile Zola. Under family pressure he trained as a lawyer in his native Aix while attending lessons at the local drawing academy. After moving to Paris he attended a private art school (the Académie Suisse).

Cézanne absorbed many influences, including those of Courbet and Manet, in his early years. In his early works he often imitated Courbet, applying thick layers of paint with a palette knife. He later told Renoir that it took him twenty years to realise that painting was not sculpture.

While the three works that Cézanne exhibited in 1874 at the first Impressionist exhibition were not fully in line with the Impressionist technique of quickly placing appliqués of pigment on the canvas, he did eventually abandon his relatively dark palette in exchange for brilliant tones and began painting out-of-doors, encouraged by the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro (1830–1903).

His Bathers of 1874–75 demonstrates a developed style and tonal scale in one of his first paintings of this theme, which recurs in his oeuvre. The landscape of Bathers has the brilliance of plein-air painting, while the figures, drawn from the artist’s imagination (Cézanne rarely painted nudes from life), reconcile themselves within this setting.

Cézanne was interested in the simplification of naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials: he wanted to "treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone" (a tree trunk may be conceived of as a cylinder, an apple or orange a sphere, for example). Additionally, Cézanne’s desire to capture the truth of perception led him to explore binocular vision graphically, rendering slightly different, yet simultaneous visual perceptions of the same phenomena to provide the viewer with an aesthetic experience of depth different from those of earlier ideals of perspective, in particular single-point perspective. Cézanne’s innovations have prompted critics to suggest such varied explanations as sick retinas, pure vision, and the influence of the steam railway. Art’s presence in a new technology, photography may also have influenced Cézanne’s introduction of realism’s binocular perspective. His work was to have a significant influence on Picasso and the development of 20th-century art.

The Fisherman ~ Fantastic Scene

1875, Paul Cézanne

The complex process of drawing inspiration from these two sources, nature and memory, would occupy Cézanne in his later work. The Fisherman (Fantastic Scene), of about 1875, shares the same bright tones as Bathers, while its subject recalls the themes of fantasy familiar from the 1860s; it too could be the product of two polar sources. His early impressionism, and his post-impressionism realism.

Cézanne worked slowly and methodically, selecting subjects he could study for long periods. In the 1880s Cézanne’s brushwork was to become increasingly systematic and ordered.

Madame Cézanne, La Boule in a Red Dress

1877, Paul Cézanne

Émilie Hortense Ficquet gave Cézanne one child, also named Paul. Evolving from notoriety, and the heavy palette of his early years (1860s-1870s) Cézanne gave up classic artistic elements such as pictorial arrangements, single view perspectives, and outlines that enclosed color. Art that followed (1880s-1900s) acquired a "living perspective" by capturing all the complexities that an eye observes. His paint storkes became light and airy, fleeting glimpses. He wanted to see and sense the objects he was painting, rather than think about them. Ultimately, he wanted to get to the point where "sight" was also "touch". He would take hours sometimes to put down a single stroke because each stroke needed to contain "the air, the light, the object, the composition, the character, the outline, and the style". A still life might have taken Cézanne one hundred working sessions while a portrait took him around one hundred and fifty sessions. Cèzanne believed that while he was painting, he was capturing a moment in time, that once passed, could not come back. The atmosphere surrounding what he was painting was a part of the sensational reality he was painting. Cèzanne claimed: "Art is a personal apperception, which I embody in sensations and which I ask the understanding to organize into a painting."

Émilie played a critical role in Cézanne’s reconception of the portrait genre and in his larger redefinition of the practice of painting. As he succumbed to poor physical health and emotional upheaval, they lived in separate residences. Yet their bond was unbreakable. Cézanne’s portraits of Émilie demonstrate deep emotional and psychological responses to Fiquet Cézanne that permeated each of his masterpieces. Life is complicated, and not at all apathetic. It is the artist’s subjective psychological complexities and intensely contradictory emotions, shaped by and in relation to one’s significant other, that are fundamental to his paintings and to his invention of the modern portrait, one that eschews resemblance and emotional insight for mutable identity.

Leda and the Swan

1880-82, Paul Cézanne

Sensually, Leda offers herself, but the simplicity of the still life fruit beside her hand belies any erotic intention. During his exhibition Leda and the Swan, in 1894 Cézanne presented himself as a phantom, a truth seeker, a revelator, a precursor, a kind of guage; a man who had no desire to cut a figure or seek a role but who had nonetheless achieved a strange renown. It is easy to admire his Femme nue, an idea he writess originated from a label on a bottle of champagne he drank with Émile Zola, who inspired Cézanne to paint Leda and the swan.

Almost all of Cézanne’s nudes (including numerous Bathers) were composed from memory. A university graduate, Cézanne was an academic post impressionist, whose approach to life was ordered and discilpined. However, what is more surprising in the work of a man who spent almost half of his artistic life in Paris, is not that he completed so many works there, but that he scarcely painted the city itself at all. He was restless, constantly moving around and living at nearly twenty different addresses.


1889, Paul Cézanne

In April 1886, Cézanne had married Émilie Hortense Ficquet, and in October his father died. By the end of the decade, emotional turmoil was taking its toll on his life. Before his health began to fail, Cézanne was pulled in two directions. His translucent landscapes inspiring cubists were intercepted by still life skulls and portrait harlequins.

Having struggled to uphold impressionism under Napoleon (who officially banned impressionist works of art), then as a young artist evolving through groups of bathers and Parisian portraits into countryside architecture, the increasingly popular mature Cézanne now avoids Draft by moving to remote seaside villages, painting landscapes in solitude.

Pine and Red Earth

1895, Paul Cézanne

Cézanne concentrated on a few subjects and was equally proficient in each of these genres: still lifes, portraits, landscapes and studies of bathers. For the last, Cézanne was compelled to design from his imagination, due to a lack of available nude models. Like the landscapes, his portraits were drawn from that which was familiar, so that not only his wife and son but local peasants, children and his art dealer served as subjects. His still lifes are at once decorative in design, painted with thick, flat surfaces, yet with a weight reminiscent of Gustave Courbet. The 'props' for his works are still to be found, as he left them, in his studio (atelier), in the suburbs of modern Aix.

Beginning with his excursions with Pissaro in the 1870’s, and maturing often alone in his frequent retreats to the French countryside, landscapes were Cézanne’s means of escape in his work. Also wer he developed unique perspecitve in planes of color that shape environment.

The Maison Maria

1895, Paul Cézanne

In Paris, Cézanne met the Impressionist Camille Pissarro, who would inspire all of the artists subsequent works. Initially the friendship formed in the mid-1860s between Pissarro and Cézanne was that of master and disciple, in which Pissarro exerted a formative influence on the younger artist. Over the course of the following decade their landscape painting excursions together, in Louveciennes and Pontoise, led to a collaborative working relationship between equals.

Cézanne’s early work is often concerned with the figure in the landscape and includes many paintings of groups of large, heavy figures in the landscape, imaginatively painted (including notorious rape and murder canvases). Later in his career, he abadoned heavy an morbid art, became more interested in working from direct observation and gradually developed a light, airy painting style. Nevertheless, in Cézanne’s mature work there is the development of a solidified, almost architectural style of painting that shows decades of mastery. Throughout his life he struggled to develop an authentic observation of the seen world by the most accurate method of representing it in paint that he could find. To this end, he structurally ordered whatever he perceived into simple forms and colour planes. His statement "I want to make of impressionism something solid and lasting like the art in the museums", and his contention that he was recreating Poussin "after nature" underscored his desire to unite observation of nature with the permanence of classical composition.

In the 1890s, Cézanne alternated between painting at Jas de Bouffan and in the Paris region. In 1895 he made a germinal visit to Bibémus Quarries and climbed Montagne Sainte-Victoire. The labyrinthine landscape of the quarries must have struck a note, as he rented a cabin there in 1897 and painted extensively from it. The shapes are believed to have inspired the embryonic "Cubist" style. Also in that year, his mother died, an upsetting event but one which made reconciliation with his wife possible. He sold the empty nest at Jas de Bouffan and rented a place on Rue Boulegon, where he built a studio.

Still Life with Carafe, Bottle, and Fruit

1906, Paul Cézanne

The bright shades of the fruit, juxtaposed with the dark tones of the centred wine bottle, and the clarity of the glass carafe, offer a marvellously vibrant composition of light and color. Composition is the way objects and elements are arranged within a work of art. Cézanne’s watercolor still life paintings share some common components. Often Cézanne would use leading lines to direct the viewers eye to the focal point of his paintings. Additionally he would divide the space horizontally in a similar manner in many of his works using lines near the top third or lower third of the paintings.

Let’s take a look at some of his techniques. Still Life With Carafe Sugar Bowl Bottle Pommegranates And Watermelon has many lines directing viewers eyes toward the lighter colored sugar bowl and carafe at the front of the arrangement on the table top. The triangular shape created by the fruit and containers also lead toward the carafe at the tip of the triangle.

Cézanne’s idyllic period at Jas de Bouffan in the 1880s was temporary. From 1890 until his death he was beset by troubling events and he withdrew further into his painting, spending long periods as a virtual recluse. His paintings became well-known and sought after and he was the object of respect from a new generation of painters.

The problems began with the onset of diabetes in 1890, destabilizing his personality to the point where relationships with others were again strained. He traveled in Switzerland, with Hortense and his son, perhaps hoping to restore their relationship. Cézanne, however, returned to Provence to live; Hortense and Paul junior, to Paris. Financial need prompted Hortense’s return to Provence but in separate living quarters. Cézanne moved in with his mother and sister. In 1891 he turned to Catholicism.

He needed a place to be by himself. In 1901 he bought some land along the Chemin des Lauves, an isolated road on some high ground at Aix, and commissioned a studio to be built there (now open to the public). He moved there in 1903. Meanwhile, in 1902, he had drafted a will excluding his wife from his estate and leaving everything to his son. The relationship was apparently off again; she is said to have burned the mementos of his mother.

From 1903 to the end of his life he painted in his studio, in his Provence house. After his death it became a monument, Atelier Paul Cézanne, or les Lauves.