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Paul Cézanne

French Draftsman and Painter

Movement: Post-Impressionism

Born: January 19, 1839 - Aix-en-Provence, France

Died: October 22, 1906 - Aix-en-Provence, France

Important Art by Paul Cézanne

The below artworks are the most important by Paul Cézanne - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.


Louis-Auguste Cézanne, the Artist's father, Reading “L'Evenement” (1866)

Artwork description & Analysis: This portrait is one of the most renowned early works by Cézanne. The rigid composition is dominated by somber hues applied in a thick impasto. The expressive premise for this piece is suggested by the artist's inclusion of his own still life in the background, as though to solicit recognition of his talent by his famously disapproving parent. As if to force the issue, Louis-August is portrayed reading a liberal newspaper, a highly unlikely event, as he was widely known for his conservative outlook.

Oil on canvas - The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


A Modern Olympia (1869-1870)

Artwork description & Analysis: This composition is Cézanne's adaptation of the theme of the demi-mondaine, or high-class prostitute suggested in Édouard Manet's scandalous Olympia of 1863. Unlike Manet's treatment, however, Cézanne portrays the prostitute as an awkwardly naked and recoiling figure, setting off the figures of her suitor (completely invisible in Manet's rendering of the subject) and an African chambermaid as transgressing "outsiders." The figures are depicted in both an expressive and abbreviated, indeed almost ungainly manner, with facial features only vaguely outlined, like masks, while their fleshy, corpulent bodies are visually articulated by dynamic, curving contours. The interior of the room is defined by a series of sweeping diagonals and bold colors depicting draperies, fruit, and an implied floral arrangement (Manet's version of the subject sported a resplendent bouquet in the center of the canvas). The suitor may be equated with Cézanne himself, possibly referring to his well-known anxiety with the opposite sex, which he struggled with throughout his entire life.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection


The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L'Estaque (1885)

Artwork description & Analysis: In this view of L'Estaque, the artist's palette bursts with a vibrant bouquet of colors previously unseen in his work. The rigid architectonic forms of the houses define the foreground, while the rest of the picture is realized just as "solidly" through the bold blues of the sea and the sky. The complimentary colors are skillfully employed by the artist to create an illusion of pictorial depth. The entire composition reminds us the artist's stated desire to "make of Impressionism something solid and enduring, like the art in museums." Cézanne painted numerous views of L'Estaque, which was one of his favorite destinations in the south of France.

Oil on canvas - The Art Institute of Chicago


Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress (1888-1890)

Artwork description & Analysis: This is an example of the many portraits Cézanne painted of his mistress and eventual wife, Hortense Fiquet. Cézanne does not romanticize her form: the sitter's figure is rigidly imposing, almost soldier-like, her face bluntly plain and asymmetrical with only one ear visible. It seems that the sitter exists purely for compositional purposes, her dress in itself serving as an excuse for the artist to experiment with various tones of red, like a convenient palette. The stark geometrical accents dissect the canvas in both horizontal and vertical directions, thus creating the impression of a carefully arranged, monumental still life, as opposed to a portrait of a lifelong companion or "loved one."

Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


The Card Players (1890-1892)

Artwork description & Analysis: Cézanne produced his series of "Card Player" paintings, drawings, and related studies in the region of Aix-en-Provence, his ancestral home in the South of France, where he found in the image of men playing cards something timeless, like the mountains cradling an ancient people. As though they came together around a simple peasant table for a seance or cosmic conference, the card players seem at once transient and unmoving, very much masters of their environment and yet weathered testaments of time's passing.

Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Table, Napkin, and Fruit (A Corner of the Table) (1895-1900)

Artwork description & Analysis: After studying Dutch and French Old Master still life painting at the Musée du Louvre and other Paris galleries, Cézanne formulated his own semi-sculptural approach to still lifes. Typically strewn across an upturned tabletop, Cézanne's pears, peaches, and other pictorial elements seem at once to rest on a solid, wooden plank and yet float across the surface of the canvas like a new kind of calligraphy. As if to press home that point, Cézanne typically includes chairs, wooden screens, water pitchers, and wine bottles to suggest that the gaze of the viewer rise vertically up the canvas, rather than plunge deep within any implied corner of a real kitchen.

Oil on canvas, 47 x 56 cm (18 1/4 x 22 in) - The Barnes Foundation, Pennsylvania


Study of Trees (c.1904)

Artwork description & Analysis: In nearly abstract watercolor landscapes dating from the latter part of his life, Cézanne achieved a perfect balance, or equilibrium, between color, form, and relatively untouched areas of the paper. The brushstrokes themselves seemed to speak a visual poetry entirely apart from the painting's subject. In this study of trees, which invariable comes from the long tradition of Japanese woodcuts, Cézanne is moving further toward abstraction by constructing the landscape view through various constellations of color. What seems an "unfinished" composition nonetheless successfully suggests the feeling of nature without fully representing it, the overall canvas structured by intersecting diagonals that tip and turn out of the picture plane, like leaves shifting in the sunlight. This lively arrangement, along with the artist's obvious acknowledgment of the raw canvas as a positive component, directly anticipates the "incomplete" landscapes of the Fauves and provides future generations with a method to experiment with pictorial possibilities beyond the rigid tradition of naturalistic representation.

Oil on canvas - The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass


Mont Sainte-Victoire (c.1905)

Artwork description & Analysis: This is one of the last landscapes of Mont Sainte-Victoire, favored by Cézanne at the end of his life. The view is rendered in what is essentially an abstract vocabulary. Rocks and trees are suggested by mere daubs of paint as opposed to being extensively depicted. The overall composition itself, however, is clearly representational and also follows in the ethos of Japanese prints. The looming mountain is reminiscent of a puzzle of various hues, assembled into a recognizable object. This and other such late works of Cézanne proved to be of a paramount importance to the emerging modernists, who sought to liberate themselves from the rigid tradition of pictorial depiction.

Oil on canvas - The Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow


The Large Bathers (1898-1906)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Large Bathers is one of the finest examples of Cézanne's attempt at incorporating the modern, heroic nude in a natural setting. The series of very human nudes, no Greco-Roman nymphs or satyrs, are arranged into a variety of positions, like objects of still life, under the pointed arch formed by the intersection of trees and the heavens. The figures are devoid of any particular personality - the artist assembles them for purely structural purposes. Here Cézanne is reinterpreting an iconic Western motif of the female nude, but in an exceptionally radical way. The sheer size of the painting is monumental, confronting the viewer directly with abbreviated shapes that resolve themselves into the naked limbs of his sitters. This is not yet abstraction, but in such instances Cézanne has already moved beyond the figurative tradition.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



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Related Art and Artists


The Bathers (1853)

Artist: Gustave Courbet

Artwork description & Analysis: This is one of the best examples of Courbet's non-classical treatment of nudes. In this eight foot tall painting two women are partially naked without any mythological justification or rhetoric, rendered naturally and not idealized. The painting was poorly received, with Delacroix seeing no excuse for these "naked and fat bourgeoisie.. buttocks, and meaningless gestures." But rather than being negative, the attention was good publicity, and Courbet sold the work in spite of the criticisms.

Oil on canvas - Musee Fabre, Montpellier


A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1881-82)

Artist: Édouard Manet

Artwork description & Analysis: This melancholic café scene is undoubtedly Manet's last masterpiece. The Folies-Bergere was a popular café concert for a fashionable and diverse crowd. The lively bar scene is reflected in the mirror behind the central figure, the sad bar girl. Her beautiful, tired eyes avoid contact with the viewer - who also plays a double role as the customer in this scene. Much has been made of the faulty perspective from the reflection in the mirror, but this was evidently part of Manet's interest in artifice and reality. On the marble countertop is an exquisite still-life arrangement of identifiable bottles of beer and liquor, flowers, and mandarins, all of which anticipate the still lifes of his final two years of life.

Oil on canvas - The Courtauld Institute Galleries, London


Artwork Images

Hoar Frost, the Old Road to Ennery, Pointoise (1873)

Artist: Camille Pissarro

Artwork description & Analysis: Considered one of Pissarro's masterpieces, Hoar Frost is one of five paintings he exhibited at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. Here, a peasant worker traverses a field in Pissarro's hometown at the time, Pointoise. The painting's emphasis on color harmony is an important antecedent to Neo-Impressionist techniques, but his true achievement is bringing a focus on composition to the Impressionist canvas. Cézanne famously said "We must make of Impressionism something solid like the art of the museum" in reference to the movement's lack of underlying structure. Cézanne's mentor Pissarro, however, used tilled fields crossed with foot-trampled paths and regularly spaced trees on a horizon to create a balanced composition. The cool color palette and offset vanishing point fall comfortably into the rhythm of the canvas, directing the viewer's attention to the wandering figure.

Oil on canvas - Musée D'Orsay, Paris

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