Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne

French Draftsman and Painter

Born: January 19, 1839 - Aix-en-Provence, France
Died: October 22, 1906 - Aix-en-Provence, France
"I owe you the truth in painting and I will tell it to you"
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Paul Cézanne Signature
"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."
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Paul Cézanne Signature
"You must think. The eye is not enough; it needs to think as well."
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Paul Cézanne Signature
"Time and contemplation gradually modify our vision, ... and at last we reach understanding."
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Paul Cézanne Signature
"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."
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Paul Cézanne Signature
"There must not be a single loose strand, a single gap through which the tension, the light, the truth can escape."
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Paul Cézanne Signature
"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."
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Paul Cézanne Signature
"Art is a harmony parallel with nature."
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Paul Cézanne Signature
"In Cézanne's work we should see not only a new pictorial construction but also—too often forgotten—a new moral suggestion of space."
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George Braque
"[Cézanne is] the example of the dedicated life."
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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."
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Historian Meyer Schapiro

Summary of Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne was the preeminent French artist of the Post-Impressionist era, widely appreciated toward the end of his life for insisting that painting stay in touch with its material, virtually sculptural origins. Also known as the "Master of Aix" after his ancestral home in the South of France, Cézanne is credited with paving the way for the emergence of twentieth-century modernism, both visually and conceptually. In retrospect, his work constitutes the most powerful and essential link between the ephemeral aspects of Impressionism and the more materialist, artistic movements of Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, and even complete abstraction.

Accomplishments

  • Unsatisfied with the Impressionist dictum that painting is primarily a reflection of visual perception, Cézanne sought to make of his artistic practice a new kind of analytical discipline. In his hands, the canvas itself takes on the role of a screen where an artist's visual sensations are registered as he gazes intensely, and often repeatedly, at a given subject.
  • Cézanne applied his pigments to the canvas in a series of discrete, methodical brushstrokes as though he were "constructing" a picture rather than "painting" it. Thus, his work remains true to an underlying architectural ideal: every portion of the canvas should contribute to its overall structural integrity.
  • In Cézanne's mature pictures, even a simple apple might display a distinctly sculptural dimension. It is as if each item of still life, landscape, or portrait had been examined not from one but several angles, its material properties then recombined by the artist as no mere copy, but as what Cézanne called "a harmony parallel to nature." It was this aspect of Cézanne's analytical, time-based practice that led the future Cubists to regard him as their true mentor.

Biography of Paul Cézanne

<i>Self-Portrait and Apple</i> (1880-84) by Paul Cézanne

Though Paul Cézanne famously said, "I will astonish Paris with an apple," he turned away from Paris (but not from fruits) for a quiet life in Provence where he painted, as he said, "nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone." His artistic approach launched one of the four major trends in movement now defined as Post-Impressionism. And his move to the countryside became a model for other Post-Impressionist leaders including Signac, Gauguin, and van Gogh, who also worked and lived in the South of France.



Progression of Art

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

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

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 (1869-70)
1869-70

A Modern Olympia

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 life.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection

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

The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L'Estaque

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 complementary 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 (1888-90)
1888-90

Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress

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 (1890-92)
1890-92

The Card Players

Cézanne produced his series of Card Player paintings, drawings, and related studies in 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)
1895-1900

Table, Napkin, and Fruit (A Corner of the Table)

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.

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

Study of Trees (c.1904)
c.1904

Study of Trees

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 invariably 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)
c.1905

Mont Sainte-Victoire

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.

In Cézanne's mature work, the colors and forms possessed equal pictorial weight. The primary means of constructing the new perspective included the juxtaposition of cool and warm colors as well as the bold overlapping of forms. The light was no longer an "outsider" in relation to depicted objects; rather light emanated from within. Instead of the illusion, he searched for the essence. Instead of the three-dimensional artifice, he longed for the two-dimensional truth.

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

The Large Bathers (1898-1906)
1898-1906

The Large Bathers

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 Philadelphia Museum of Art


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Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Paul Cézanne 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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First published on 01 Jun 2011. Updated and modified regularly
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