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Artists Paul Cézanne Biography and Legacy
Paul Cézanne Photo

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

Paul Cézanne Timeline

Quotes

"We must not paint what we think we see, but what we see .. sometimes it may go against the grain, but this is what our craft demands."
Paul Cézanne
"You must think. The eye is not enough; it needs to think as well."
Paul Cézanne
"I try to render perspective through color alone .. One must see one's model correctly and experience it in the right way, and furthermore, express oneself with distinction and strength."
Paul Cézanne
"There must not be a single loose strand, a single gap through which the tension, the light, the truth can escape."
Paul Cézanne
"A painter is revealing something which no one has ever seen before and translates it into the absolute concepts of painting. That is, into something other than reality."
Paul Cézanne
"I owe you the truth in painting and I will tell it to you"
Paul Cézanne
"Art is a harmony parallel with nature."
Paul Cézanne
"In Cézanne's work we should see not only a new pictorial construction but also—too often forgotten—a new moral suggestion of space."
George Braque
"[Cézanne is] the example of the dedicated life."
Paul Valery
"At the threshold of our century stands the art of Cézanne, which imposes on us the conviction that in rendering the simplest objects, bare of ideal meanings, a series of colored patches can be a summit of perfection showing the concentrated qualities and powers of a great mind.
Whoever in dismay before the strangeness of certain contemporary works denies to the original painting of our time a sufficient significance and longs for an art with noble and easily-read figures and gestures, should return to Cézanne and ask what in the appeal of his 'weighty art' depends on a represented human drama."
Historian Meyer Schapiro

"I owe you the truth in painting and I will tell it to you"

Paul Cézanne Signature

Biography

Childhood

Paul Cézanne was born in 1839 in the town of Aix-en-Provence in the South of France. His father was a wealthy lawyer and banker who strongly encouraged Paul to follow in his footsteps. Cézanne's eventual rejection of his authoritative father's aspirations led to a long, problematic relationship between the two, although, notably, the artist remained financially dependent on his family until his father's death in 1886.

He was extremely close friends with Émile Zola, a writer born in Aix as well, and who would later become one of the greatest literary figures of his generation. The adventurous Cézanne and Zola were part of a small circle that called themselves "The Inseperables". They moved to Paris together in 1861.

Early Training

Cézanne was largely a self-taught artist. In 1859, he attended evening drawing classes in his native town of Aix. After moving to Paris, Cézanne twice attempted to enter the École des Beaux-Arts, but was turned down by the jury. Instead of acquiring professional training, Cézanne made frequent visits to the Musée de Louvre, where he copied works by Titian, Rubens, and Michelangelo. He also regularly visited the Académie Suisse, a studio where young art students could draw from the live model for a very modest monthly membership fee. While at the Académie, Cézanne met fellow painters Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, and Auguste Renoir, who were at that time also struggling artists, but who would soon comprise the founding members of the nascent Impressionist movement.

Paul Cézanne Biography

The early oils of Cézanne were executed in a rather somber palette. The paint was often applied in thick layers of impasto, adding a sense of heaviness to already solemn compositions. His early painting indicated a focus on color in favor of well-delineated silhouettes and perspectives preferred by the French Academy and the jury of the annual Salon where he continuously submitted his works. All of his submissions, however, were refused. The artist also travelled regularly back to Aix to secure funding from his disapproving father.

The year 1870 marked a crucial shift in Cézanne's painting which was occasioned by two factors: the artist's move to L'Estaque in the South of France to avoid the military draft, and his closer association with one of the most distinguished young Impressionists - Camille Pissarro. Cézanne was fascinated with the Mediterranean landscape of L'Estaque, with its abundance of sunlight, and the vibrancy of colors. Meanwhile, Pissarro proved instrumental in persuading Cézanne to adopt a brighter palette, as well as to abandon the heavy and ponderous impasto technique in favor of smaller and livelier brushstrokes. In L'Estaque, Cézanne executed a series of landscapes dominated by the architectonic forms of the rural houses, the dazzling blues of the sea, and the vivacious greens of the foliage.

In 1872, Cézanne returned to Paris, where his son Paul was born. His mistress, Hortense Fiquet, would finally become Madame Cézanne in 1886, notably just following the artist's father's death. Cézanne painted over forty portraits of his companion, as well as several enigmatic portraits of their son.

In 1873, Cézanne exhibited in the Salon des Réfuses, the notorious show of artists who had been refused by the official Salon (he counted himself among a circle that included Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Camille Pissarro, among others). The critics slammed the avant-garde artists, which apparently hurt Cézanne deeply. In the next decade he mostly painted away from Paris, in either Aix or L'Estaque, and he no longer participated in unofficial group exhibitions.

Mature Period

Paul Cézanne Picture
Paul Cézanne Picture

Cézanne's experience with painting from nature and rigourous experimentation led him to develop his own approaches to art. He strove to depart from the portrayal of the transient moment, long favored by the Impressionists; instead, Cézanne sought true and permanent pictorial qualities of objects around him. According to Cézanne, the subject of the painting was first to be "read" by the artist through the understanding of its essence. Then, in the second stage, this essence must be "realized" on a canvas through forms, colors, and their spatial relations. The colors and forms thus became the dominant elements of his compositions, completely freed from the rigid rules of perspective and paint application as promoted by the Academy.

Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne

Depicting reality as such was never Cézanne's primary objective. In his own words, it was "something other than reality" that he endeavored to reveal. In the 1880's, Cézanne executed a large number of still lifes, completely reinventing the genre in the two-dimensional mode. The central feature of these still lifes was the crucial shift of attention from the objects themselves, to the forms and colors that were potentially communicated by their surfaces and contours.

Cézanne's portraits, including an extensive body of self-portraits, exhibit the same set of traits. The compositions are vividly impersonal, for it was not the sitter's character that Cézanne struggled to depict but the formal and coloristic possibilities of the human body and its interior nature.

Late Period and Death

Paul Cézanne in the front his painting <i>The Bathers</i>
Paul Cézanne in the front his painting The Bathers

In the last decade of his life, Cézanne limited his artistic pursuits almost exclusively to two pictorial motifs. One was the depiction of the Mont Sainte-Victoire, a dramatic mountain that dominated the parched and stony landscape at Aix. The other was the final synthesis of nature and the human body in a series of so-called Bathers (nudes depicted frolicking in a landscape). The later versions of the Bathers were becoming increasingly abstract in regard to how form and color seemed to fuse together on the canvas.

After contracting pneumonia, Paul Cézanne died in his familial house in Aix on October 22, 1906. The last decade of his life had been marred by the development of diabetes and severe depression, which contributed toward alienating the artist from most of his friends and family.

Legacy

The painting <i>Homage to Cézanne</i> (1900) by Maurice Denis. From left: Odilon Redon, Edouard Vuillard, critic Andre Mellario, dealer Ambraise Vollard, Maurice Denis, and Paul Serusier, Paul Ranson, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Pierre Bonnard, and Marthe Denis
The painting Homage to Cézanne (1900) by Maurice Denis. From left: Odilon Redon, Edouard Vuillard, critic Andre Mellario, dealer Ambraise Vollard, Maurice Denis, and Paul Serusier, Paul Ranson, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Pierre Bonnard, and Marthe Denis

When looking at Cézanne's late work, it is impossible to miss the emergence of a unique artistic approach. Cézanne offered a new way of comprehending the world through art. With his reputation evolving steadily in the late years of his life, an increasing number of young artists fell under the influence of his innovative vision. Among them was the young Pablo Picasso, who would soon steer the Western tradition of painting into yet another new and utterly unprecedented direction. It was Cézanne who taught the new generation of artists to liberate form from color in their art, thus creating a new and subjective pictorial reality, not merely a slavish imitation. The influence of Cézanne continued well into the 1930s and 1940s, when a new artistic manner was coming to fruition - that of Abstract Expressionism.

Most Important Art

Paul Cézanne Famous Art

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

After studying Dutch and French Old Master still life painting at the Louvre and other Parisian 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.
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Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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