Featured Artist: Paul Cézanne
Born on 19 January 1839 in Aix-en-Provence Paul Cézanne, was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th-century conception of artistic endeavor to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Cézanne’s often repetitive, exploratory brushstrokes are highly characteristic and clearly recognizable. He used planes of colour and small brushstrokes that build up to form complex fields. The paintings convey Cézanne’s intense study of his subjects.
Cézanne with his innovative approach formed the bridge between late 19th-century Impressionism and the early 20th century’s new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism. Both Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that Cézanne “is the father of us all.”
Cézanne entered the Collège Bourbon in Aix (now Collège Mignet), In 1852, where he became friends with Émile Zola, and Baptistin Baille—three friends who came to be known as “les trois inséparables” (the three inseparables). He stayed there for six years, though in the last two years he was a day scholar. In 1857, he began attending the Free Municipal School of Drawing in Aix, where he studied drawing under Joseph Gibert, a Spanish monk. From 1858 to 1861, complying with his father’s wishes, Cézanne attended the law school of the University of Aix, while also receiving drawing lessons.
Going against the objections of his banker father, he committed himself to pursuing his artistic development and left Aix for Paris in 1861. He was strongly encouraged to make this decision by Zola, who was already living in the capital at the time. Eventually, his father reconciled with Cézanne and supported his choice of career. Cézanne later received an inheritance of 400,000 francs from his father, which rid him of all financial worries.
In Paris, Cézanne met the Impressionist Camille Pissarro. Initially the friendship formed in the mid-1860s between Pissarro and Cézanne was that of master and disciple, in which Pissarro exerted a formative influence on the younger artist. Over the course of the following decade their landscape painting excursions together, in Louveciennes and Pontoise, led to a collaborative working relationship between equals.
Cézanne’s early work is often concerned with the figure in the landscape and includes many paintings of groups of large, heavy figures in the landscape, imaginatively painted. Later in his career, he became more interested in working from direct observation and gradually developed a light, airy painting style. Nevertheless, in Cézanne’s mature work there is the development of a solidified, almost architectural style of painting. Throughout his life he struggled to develop an authentic observation of the seen world by the most accurate method of representing it in paint that he could find. To this end, he structurally ordered whatever he perceived into simple forms and colour planes. His statement “I want to make of impressionism something solid and lasting like the art in the museums”, and his contention that he was recreating Poussin “after nature” underscored his desire to unite observation of nature with the permanence of classical composition.
Cézanne was interested in the simplification of naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials: he wanted to “treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone. Additionally, Cézanne’s desire to capture the truth of perception led him to explore binocular vision graphically, rendering slightly different, yet simultaneous visual perceptions of the same phenomena to provide the viewer with an aesthetic experience of depth different from those of earlier ideals of perspective, in particular single-point perspective. His interest in new ways of modeling space and volume derived from the stereoscopy obsession of his era and from reading Hippolyte Taine’s Berkelean theory of spatial perception. Cézanne’s innovations have prompted critics to suggest such varied explanations as sick retinas, pure vision, and the influence of the steam railway.
Cézanne’s paintings were shown in the first exhibition of the Salon des Refusés in 1863, which displayed works not accepted by the jury of the official Paris Salon. The Salon rejected Cézanne’s submissions every year from 1864 to 1869. He continued to submit works to the Salon until 1882. In that year, through the intervention of fellow artist Antoine Guillemet, he exhibited Portrait de M. L. A., probably Portrait of Louis-Auguste Cézanne, The Artist’s Father, Reading “L’Événement”, 1866 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), his first and last successful submission to the Salon.
He concentrated on a few subjects and was equally proficient in each of these genres: still lifes, portraits, landscapes and studies of bathers. For the last, Cézanne was compelled to design from his imagination, due to a lack of available nude models. Like the landscapes, his portraits were drawn from that which was familiar, so that not only his wife and son but local peasants, children and his art dealer served as subjects. His still lifes are at once decorative in design, painted with thick, flat surfaces, yet with a weight reminiscent of Gustave Courbet. The ‘props’ for his works are still to be found, as he left them, in his studio (atelier), in the suburbs of modern Aix.
Cézanne’s paintings were not well received among the petty bourgeoisie of Aix. In 1903 Henri Rochefort visited the auction of paintings that had been in Zola’s possession and published on 9 March 1903 in L’Intransigeant a highly critical article entitled “Love for the Ugly”. Rochefort describes how spectators had supposedly experienced laughing fits, when seeing the paintings of “an ultra-impressionist named Cézanne”. The public in Aix was outraged, and for many days, copies of L’Intransigeant appeared on Cézanne’s door-mat with messages asking him to leave the town “he was dishonouring”.
It’s said that, One day, Cézanne was caught in a storm while working in the field. After working for two hours he decided to go home; but on the way he collapsed. He was taken home by a passing driver. His old housekeeper rubbed his arms and legs to restore the circulation; as a result, he regained consciousness. On the following day, he intended to continue working, but later on he fainted; the model with whom he was working called for help; he was put to bed, and he never left it. He died a few days later, on 22 October 1906 of pneumonia and was buried at the Saint-Pierre Cemetery in his hometown of Aix-en-Provence.
Cézanne’s works were rejected numerous times by the official Salon in Paris and ridiculed by art critics when exhibited with the Impressionists. Yet during his lifetime Cézanne was considered a master by younger artists who visited his studio in Aix.
Along with the work of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, the work of Cézanne, with its sense of immediacy and incompletion, critically influenced Matisse and others prior to Fauvism and Expressionism. After Cézanne died in 1906, his paintings were exhibited in a large museum-like retrospective in Paris, September 1907. The 1907 Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d’Automne greatly affected the direction that the avant-garde in Paris took, lending credence to his position as one of the most influential artists of the 19th century and to the advent of Cubism.
Inspired by Cézanne, Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger wrote:
Cézanne is one of the greatest of those who changed the course of art history . . . From him we have learned that to alter the coloring of an object is to alter its structure. His work proves without doubt that painting is not—or not any longer—the art of imitating an object by lines and colors, but of giving plastic [solid, but alterable] form to our nature. (Du “Cubisme”,
Cézanne’s explorations of geometric simplification and optical phenomena inspired Picasso, Braque, Metzinger, Gleizes, Gris and others to experiment with ever more complex views of the same subject and eventually to the fracturing of form. Cézanne thus sparked one of the most revolutionary areas of artistic enquiry of the 20th century, one which was to affect profoundly the development of modern art. Picasso referred to Cézanne as “the father of us all” and claimed him as “my one and only master!” Other painters such as Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Kasimir Malevich, Georges Rouault, Paul Klee, and Henri Matisse acknowledged Cézanne’s genius.
A prize in his memory, called the Cézanne medal, is granted by the city of Aix en Provence, in France for special achievement in the arts.
Fauvism was the first 20th century movement in modern art. The paintings of the Fauves were characterized by seemingly wild brush work and strident colors, while their subject matter had a high degree of simplification and abstraction. Fauvism can be classified as an extreme development of Van Gogh’s Post-Impressionism fused with the pointillism of Seurat and other Neo-Impressionist painters, in particular Paul Signac. Other key influences were Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin, whose employment of areas of saturated color—notably in paintings from Tahiti—strongly influenced Derain’s work at Collioure in 1905. In 1888 Gauguin had said to Paul Sérusier: “How do you see these trees? They are yellow. So, put in yellow; this shadow, rather blue, paint it with pure ultramarine; these red leaves? Put in vermilion.” Fauvism has been compared to Expressionism, both in its use of pure color and unconstrained brushwork. Some of the Fauves were among the first avant-garde artists to collect and study African and Oceanic art, alongside other forms of non-Western and folk art, leading several Fauves toward the development Cubism.
Gustave Moreau was the movement’s inspirational teacher; a controversial professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and a Symbolist painter, he taught Matisse, Marquet, Manguin, Rouault and Camoin during the 1890s, and was viewed by critics as the group’s philosophical leader until Matisse was recognized as such in 1904. Moreau’s broad-mindedness, originality and affirmation of the expressive potency of pure color was inspirational for his students. Matisse said of him, “He did not set us on the right roads, but off the roads. He disturbed our complacency.” This source of empathy was taken away with Moreau’s death in 1898, but the artists discovered other catalysts for their development.
In 1896, Matisse, then an unknown art student, visited the artist John Peter Russell on the island of Belle Île off the coast of Brittany. Russell was an Impressionist painter; Matisse had never previously seen an Impressionist work directly, and was so shocked at the style that he left after ten days, saying, “I couldn’t stand it anymore.” The next year he returned as Russell’s student and abandoned his earth-colored palette for bright Impressionist colors, later stating, “Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained color theory to me.” Russell had been a close friend of Vincent van Gogh and gave Matisse a Van Gogh drawing.
In 1901, Maurice de Vlaminck encountered the work of Van Gogh for the first time at an exhibition, declaring soon after that he loved Van Gogh more than his own father; he started to work by squeezing paint directly onto the canvas from the tube. In parallel with the artists’ discovery of contemporary avant-garde art came an appreciation of pre-Renaissance French art, which was shown in a 1904 exhibition, French Primitives. Another aesthetic influence was African sculpture, of which Vlaminck, Derain and Matisse were early collectors.