Progression of Art
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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