Paul Cezanne

Paul Cezanne

Paul Cezanne was an outstanding French painter, representative of Post-impressionism. In his still lifes, landscapes and portraits he tried to embody all plasticity, logical structure, organic integrity and beauty of the substantial world using exquisite gradations of color and masterful compositions. “An art which isn’t based on feeling isn’t an art at all… feeling is the principle, the beginning and the end; craft, objective, technique – all these are in the middle”.

Early years and studying

Paul Cezanne was born on January 19, 1839, in Aix-en-Provence. The boy studied in the local Saint Joseph school together with future writer Emile Zola, who would become his close friend in future. After finishing school in 1858 Paul attended the Free Municipal School of Drawing and worked for his father, who was head of a provincial banking firm.

In 1861 Cezanne visited Paris for the first time but failed entrance examinations to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. After a short return to his native town and work in bank, he left for the capital again. That time Paul enrolled The Académie Suisse, where for a small fee he could draw from the nude. He watched the artistic life of the city closely and often visited Guerbois café – a popular meeting-place of Parisian bohemia. The painter learnt by copying old masters in Louvre, mostly pieces of Veronese, Tintoretto, Caravaggio and Crespi. Among then-contemporary masters he praised most of all Eugene Delacroixand and Gustave Courbet. Cezanne got no professional artistic education and, like many prominent personalities of his epoch (Gauguin, van Gogh, Rousseau), he was self-educated and didn’t want to submit to the dogmas of academic art.

Cezanne, Manet and impressionists

Thanks to Zola, Pail Cezanne acquainted with Edouard Manet, Claude Monet Camille Jacob Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir and other important representatives of Impressionism. He participated in their exhibitions of 1874 and 1877, yet didn’t share their concentration on capturing fleeting moments of nature’s station. As Manet, variations on whose paintings he created (“Luncheon On The Grass”, 1869 – 1870), Paul wanted to follow traditions of old masters: Poussin was his orienteer, and with Ingres’ name he even signed two of his decorative panels “Spring” and “Autumn” (1859 – 1862).

Early period of creative activity – 1860s

Cezanne’s earliest painting bear a quite clear romantic character, embodied in two main subjects of violent scenes (“The Murder”, 1867 – 1870), still lifes of “vanitas” type (“Still Life with Skull and Candlestick”, 1865 – 1867) or erotical visions (“The Orgy”, 1864 – 1868). Anyway, his pieces are hard to date, as Paul exhibited rarely and didn’t sign date on canvases.

Among significant works of that period rather large (198×118 cm) “Portrait of father” (1867?) should be mentioned. Probably, it was meant to prove Louis-Auguste that Cezanne had completely convinced in his choice of profession. In “Girl at the Piano” (or “Overture to Tannhauser”, 1869) he depicted his mother and sister, and the empty armchair should remind of the artist’s father. The scene of playing music in a modest provincial interior was typical for France of the end of the 19th cent., when Wagner’s music was extremely popular (the second name of the painting is the title of one of Wagner’s compositions).

At the end of 1860s – beginning of 1870s Cezanne referred to a classical motif of bathers that had been popular since the 17th cent., and was developing it during futher decades.

Legacy of 1870s

At the beginning 1870s Paul Cezanne became close with Marie-Hortense Fiquet, who born him a son Paul in a short while (both were regularly depicted by the artist). The family lived in Pontoise and Auvers in Val-d’Oise near Paris, where another center of impressionism was formed, besides Argenteuil – Camille Pissarro and Armand Guillaumin worked there. Under Pissarro’s influence the master started painting en plein air and applying technique of divided brushstrokes. “The Hanged Man’s House” illustrates impressionistic tendencies in Cezanne’s art of that period (1873).

Pissarro’s experience was also crucial because he paid a lot of attention to the spatial organization of a landscape. That met Cezanne’s desire to “construct” the world on canvas, to represent his constant, imperishable features; he wasn’t interested in dynamics of the surrounding or changes of colors in atmosphere. His creative principle the author developed in the second half of 1870s, he called “realisation”.

Paul wasn’t much interested in spatial plans, pulling the whole picture to the singular painting field, so separate perspective areas were superimposed and merged. Sometimes he used methods of reverse and spherical perspective, so absolutely straight line can be rarely seen in his pieces – they’re mainly curved or slanting.

Immersing deeper and deeper into watercolor technique, the master tried some of its methods in oil painting – he preferred white canvases that were intentionally ungrounded, so the painting layer was partly absorbed the canvas and became lighter. Cezanne’s coloring was based on gradations (or like he said – modulations) of three main tints (green, blue and ochre) and white. Modeling of forms was more laconic and constructively generalized.

In 1870s the painter began a series of self-portraits, which demonstrate evolution of his visual language. From “Self-Portrait in a Peaked Cap” (1874) with its roughness and “japanisation” of the eye shape, he shifted to creating more laconic images (“Self-portrait”, ar. 1880). In “Still Life with Fruit Dish” (1879 – 1880) a viewer sees the dish in profile and, at the same time, from above. Combination of different angles of view was one of Cezanne’s favorite artistic vehicle.

In contrary to impressionists, who liked depicting scenes of walks and picnics on fresh air, Paul rarely showed staffage in his landscapes – his numerous Pontoise views are solitary; even yellowish houses look uninhabited among lush southern verdure. Nature is self-sufficient in his paintings, like a mighty and full of hidden energy power.

What’s peculiar, Cezanne became interested in geology at that time. Sainte-Victoire mountain became, visible from the windows and terrace of his countryside studio in Aix (the author lived there till the end of his days and got the nickname “the Hermit of Aix”), was a frequent motif from the beginning of 1880s.

Last period of Cezanne’s art

From the end of 1880s Cezanne worked more in genre scenes. The theme of his composition “Pierrot and Harlequin” (1888) is dedicated to the festival of “Mardi Gras” (“Fat Tuesday”) – the final day of the carnival before the Lent. Even being a mature painter Paul kept on carrying the dialogue with great old masters: for example, five variants of his “Card players” (1890 – 1892, probably 1890 – 1896) were inspired by the piece on the same topic by Caravaggio from local museum. In the middle of 1890s he returned to portraiture “Portrait of Ambroise Vollard” (1899), “Portrait of Gustave Geffroy” (1895) are the brilliant samples of Cezanne’s works of late 1890s. Unfortunately, that genre required numerous séances (sometimes up to 100), but still often remained unfinished.

Lots of other painter’s canvases were uncompleted, including his major composition “The Large Bathers” (1898 – 1905), which was meant to finish a big cycle and was rhythmically adjusted. Paul Cezanne depicted nudes from his imagination, so figures often appear to be deformed, exaggeratedly expressive or presented in artificial poses.
The painter gained recognition only in the end of his life. Crowds of artists, collectors and art-connoisseurs started visiting Aix. He had an impact on legacy of Paul Gauguin and members of “Nabis” group, formation of Fauvism and cubism in France and beyond it. Cezanne’s oeuvre was, on one hand, considered to be an example of pure “art for art’s sake”, on the other – as realization of a philosophical conception of the Universe, introduced by the master.

Paul Cezanne died on October 22, 1906, in Aix-en-Provence.