Paul Cezannes work was fundamental for the development of Modern Art his work paved the way to Cubism and from there abstract art. A retrospective exhibition in 1907 in Paris strongly affected Pablo Picasso and George Braque among others. Picasso has said about Paul Cezanne “he was my one and only master”
I wanted to take a closer look at Paul Cezannes work to understand what differenciated it from other Impressionist painters. I watched two interesting documentaries on You Tube: “Cezanne en Provence” from National Geographic news , by Jackson Frost and Norman Allen, and “The Post- Impressionists: Cezanne “ by David Manson. Here are some notes from what I learned.
Paul Cezanne grew up in Provence , with a lot of love for his home country and it’s special light, a motive that Cezanne painted all his life, especially the mountain Mont St Victoire that figures in about 60 of Cezannes art works.
His childhood friend Emile Zola left for Paris and eventually, after studying law for a short while because of his fathers wish, Paul Cezanne joins him there in 1861 to study the masters. He gets refused numerous times from the Ecole des Beaux Arts but continues studying on his own.
Paul Cezanne did not fit in in Paris, he was very much the country man, spoke with a strong accent and wore Provencal dress.
He developed admiration for Delacroix paintings, dramatic and dark and use of thick paint. So in his earlier paintings Cezanne also uses thick, dark , bold paint for dark subjects like abduction and murder, all which changed completely later on.
He repeatedly submitted his work to “the Salon” but there innovation was not appreciated and he got rejected time upon time, just as the other fellow young unknown artists Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissaro , who later became known as the Impressionists.
In 1870 at the start of the Franco- Prussian war, Cezanne fled Paris back to Provence where he settled in L’Estaque with his model, lover and life long companion Hortense, who two years later gave birth to their son Paul, kept secret from Cezannes father for another decade.
In L”Estaque Cezanne starts painting landscapes, painting the sea and his colors slowly become lighter. He develops more and more his own style, the purity of shapes becomes apparent. Cezanne developed a friendship with Camille Pissaro and influenced by him started using lighter colours, shorter brushstrokes and learned to paint outside.
He draws very little under the paint, but works with patches of colour to model a form.
In 1874 Claude Monet organized and independent Impressionist exhibition in Paris, free from the “Salon” including works of Degas, Renoir, Cezanne. It was extremely popular but savaged by the critics, and most criticized of them all was Paul Cezanne. He was one step further in rebelliousness than the others in both form and content. He showed “Modern Olympia” that was not taken seriously .
His childhood friend Emile Zola was everything that Cezanne was not- wealthy, popular, influential. In 1886 Zola publishes the novel “L’Oevre” about an artist who is a failure, a barely concealed portrait of Cezanne. This is the end of their friendship.
Cezanne continues to paint all the time, he is fiercely pursuing his artistic vision: “construction after nature”. He was CONSTRUCTING with paint, going back to the basic fundamentals as a new way, and building up the picture with color. His work is very organized, researching. He wanted to paint the underlying FORMS of nature. All things that can be painted can be reduced to three geometric solids: the cone, the cylinder and the sphere. This idea is taken up by Picasso and Braque and further developed into Cubism.
Cezanne conveyed a sense of perspective only using the color and the thickness of the paint, building the illusion of depth through the use of colour. This is a profoundly new approach.
Also in his portraits, he is more concerned with the use of colours as a subject than with the individual expression of the model, his wife for example who often modeled for him. The woman becomes a physical structure and colour.
In the player of cards he uses strong diagonals, here again the figures become part of the structure and the arrangement of the picture is the main subject.
In 1890 he paints “The kitchen table” with a great innovation: the technique of multiple viewpoints. Since the Renaissance our seeing has been conditioned by the understanding of perspective and proportions. This is a whole new way of seeing.
The basket is seen from the front, the table top from above.
In 1895 an art dealer organized Cezanne’s first one man exhibition, his art had matured and was received by critics more warmly.
In the great Bathers the landscape becomes human. Cezanne integrates the human figures in the nature, treating the people as forms, as part of a landscape with diagonal trees and diagonal figures.
In 1906 Paul Cezanne passes away, and Picasso paints Les Demoiselles D’Avignon inspired by the great Bathers , which together with Braque’s paintings is considered the beginning of Cubism.
I have finally understood how Cezanne’s work was different from his contemporaries and what was so revolutionary in this new way of seeing- the multiple perspective, the illusion of depth through colours alone, the reduction of any forms to the geometrical basics. This text got a little too long and includes maybe too much biography, but I feel like I have learned something fundamental to seeing Modern Art in the context of the time, so it was definitely worth it.