Paul Cezanne 1839-1906 BACK

Cezanne was born in Aix-en-Provence to a wealthy family and received a classical education. His father had charted his path in life for him, to become a banker and a lawyer. He fled to Paris to paint but found out that he was technically inferior to his fellow students and gave up after five months and returned home. There he tried banking, failed and then spent time going back and forth between Paris and Aix many times between 1858 and 1872.

Cezanne met the young Impressionists but never became close to them except for Pissarro who took him under his wing. His violent temper and rudeness made him unbearable. He gradually soaked up the colors of Impressionism but was never interested in the way they tried to capture the look, feel, and aura of nature. Cezanne said that all of nature could be distilled to the cylinder, sphere and cone.

Cezanne was fascinated with the still life and painted over two hundred. In his late watercolors and landscapes he developed a magical series of brushstrokes that looked like dragonfly wings, ever shifting, overlapping and breaking apart and coming back together. Cubism was not far off.

Cezanne was an artist's artist, and his restrained pictures are impersonal and remote, much like his personality. His art misunderstood and discredited by art critics eventually challenged all the conventional values of painting through his insistence on personal expression and on the integrity of the painting itself.

As he had desired, Cezanne painted just about to the last day of his life. While working on a landscape out of doors on October 15, 1906, he was caught in a heavy rainstorm. Drenched and chilled he walked toward home. But the strain was too much for him and he collapsed on the roadside. The illustrious artist was found some time later by a driver of a laundry cart. On the morning of October 23, Cezanne died of pneumonia. He was buried at the old cemetery in his beloved hometown of Aix-en-Provence.

An excerpt from Cezanne by Richard Kendall:
Cezanne's's reputation among a small group of artists, critics and collectors had been quietly growing for some time, and in 1895, when he was fifty-six, the insularity of his existence was effectively ended by the first retrospective exhibition of his work, held at the Paris gallery of the dealer Ambroise Vollard. He was now able to enjoy an unexpected, belated celebrity, and a steady stream of writers and fellow painters began to make the pilgrimage to Aix. Although still defensive of his working routine, he could be surprisingly warm towards younger artists, and explained to them, sometimes in letters which survive today, a number of his views on art. He insisted on nature as his primary inspiration and on the need to recognize the intensity of visual experience. Art was not a copy of nature, but a "parallel" to it, and even in his last years he recorded his continuing frustration as he tried to "realize" his motif.

In spite of deteriorating health Cezanne persisted in his habitual and obsessive routines until his death in 1906. Hardly leaving the Aix area, he still preferred to work in the open air from his favorite vantage points, often returning to subjects he had painted dozens of times before. His sense of the complexity of art, of its intimate but paradoxical relationship to the perceived world, had deepened, and he continued to experiment with new techniques and ideas until his last months. At times he would strip down the shapes of his chosen subject to a few spare lines and forms, like the ellipses of a bowl of fruit or the parallels of branches and tree trunks, while at others he would build up dense and subtle reverberations of color, texture and surface incident. In his late paintings, the language of his art announces itself with increasing clarity, insisting on its separateness from observed nature while moving closer to the "vibrating sensations" of the scene that he himself described.

Among the young artists who discovered Cezanne's painting in the years before his death were some of the major figures of the Parisian avant-garde, notably Matisse, Braque and Picasso. A series of exhibitions of the elderly master's work was held in Paris at the turn of the century, and his influence can be felt in the younger artists' choice of subjects, color harmonies and stylistic devices. Georges Braque went as far as to travel to Provence to paint in front of some of Cezanne's subjects, while Picasso was principally attracted to the great bather pictures. His admiration for Cezanne is openly acknowledged in his Demoiselles d'Avignon of 1907, one of the cornerstones of Cubism and of early 20th-century art. Although Cezanne did not live to see these developments - and might not have approved of them if he had - he was clearly gratified by the attentions of the younger generation. Sensing the significance of his work for the future of painting, he declared at the end of his life that, "I am the primitive of a new art."

Image List

The Four Seasons, 1860

The Joy of Hide and Seek, 1862

Bread and Eggs, 1865

Sugar Bowl, Pears, and Blue Cup, 1866

Portrait of a Man, 1866

Uncle Dominique, 1866

Skull and Candlestick, 1866

The Bather at the Rock, 1867

The Negro Scipion, 1867

Le Christ aux Limbes, 1869

La Madeleine, 1869

Still Life with Green Pot and Pewter Jug, 1869

Pastoral (Idyll), 1870

The Railway at Sainte-Victoire, 1870

Flowers and Fruit, 1872

Pool at the Jas de Bouffan, 1878

Three Bathers, 1879

Houses in Provence, 1879

Compotier, Glass, and Apples, 1880

Boy in a Red Vest, 1888

Mardi Gras, 1888

The Pigeon Tower at Bellevue, 1889

The Boy in a Red Vest, 1890

Curtain, Jug, and Compotier, 1893

Nudes in Landscape, 1900

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C�zanne by Himself
by Richard Kendall (Editor)

C�zanne: The Self-Portraits
by Steven Platzman, Paul Cezanne

Conversations with C�zanne
(Documents of Twentieth-Century Art)

by Michael Doran (Editor),
Julie Lawrence Cochran (Translator)

The Paintings of Paul Cezanne : A Catalogue Raisonne
by John Rewald, Walter Feilchenfeldt,
Jayne Warman, Walter Felchenfeldt (Contributor)

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