Paul Cezanne Biography1839-1906
French Post-Impressionist Painter
Cezanne's work demonstrates a mastery of design, colour, composition and draftsmanship. His often repetitive, sensitive and exploratory brushstrokes are highly characteristic and clearly recognisable. He used planes of colour and small brushstrokes that build up to form complex fields, at once both a direct expression of the sensations of the observing eye and an abstraction from observed nature. The paintings convey Cezanne's intense study of his subjects, a searching gaze and a dogged struggle to deal with the complexity of human visual perception.
Early years and family
The Cezannes came from the small town of Cesana now in West Piedmont, and it has been assumed that they were ultimately of Italian origin. Paul Cezanne was born on January 19, 1839 in Aix-en-Provence, one of the southernmost regions of France. On February 22nd, Paul was baptized in the parish church, with his grandmother and uncle Louis as godparents. His father, Louis-Auguste Cezanne (July 28, 1798 - October 23, 1886), was the cofounder of a banking firm that prospered throughout the artist's life, affording him financial security that was unavailable to most of his contemporaries and eventually resulting in a large inheritance. On the other hand, his mother, Anne-Elisabeth Honorine Aubert (September 24, 1814 - October 25, 1897), was vivacious and romantic, but quick to take offense. It was from her that Paul got his conception and vision of life. He also had two younger sisters, Marie, with whom he went to a primary school every day, and Rose.
At the age of ten, Paul entered the Saint Joseph boarding-school, where he studied drawing under Joseph Gibert, a Spanish monk, in Aix. In 1852 Cezanne entered the College Bourbon (now College Mignet), where he met and became friends with Emile Zola, who was in a less advanced class. He stayed there for six years, though in the last two years he was a day scholar. From 1859 to 1861, complying with his father's wishes, Cezanne 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 Cezanne and supported his choice of career. Cezanne later received an inheritance of 400,000 francs from his father, which rid him of all money fears.
Cezanne the artist
In Paris, Cezanne met the Impressionists, including Camille Pissarro. Initially the friendship formed in the mid-1860s between Pissarro and Cezanne was that of master and mentoree, with Pissarro exerting 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.
Cezanne's early work is often concerned with the figure in the landscape and comprises 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 that was to influence the Impressionists enormously. Nonetheless, in Cezanne's mature work we see 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.
Cezanne 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" (a tree trunk may be conceived of as a cylinder, a human head a sphere, for example). Additionally, the concentrated attention with which he recorded his observations of nature resulted in a profound exploration of binocular vision, which results in two slightly different simultaneous visual perceptions, and provides us with depth perception and a complex knowledge of spatial relationships. We see two different views simultaneously; Cezanne employed this aspect of visual perception in his painting to varying degrees. The observation of this fact, coupled with Cezanne's desire to capture the truth of his own perception, often compelled him to render the outlines of forms so as to at once attempt to display the distinctly different views of both the left and right eyes. Thus Cezanne's work augments and transforms earlier ideals of perspective, in particular single-point perspective.
Exhibitions and subjects
Cezanne's paintings were shown in the first exhibition of the Salon des Refuses in 1863, which displayed works not accepted by the jury of the official Paris Salon. The Salon rejected Cezanne's submissions every year from 1864 to 1869. Cezanne continued to submit works to the Salon until 1882. In that year, through the intervention of fellow artist Antoine Guillemet, Cezanne exhibited Portrait of Louis-Auguste Cezanne, Father of the Artist, reading 'l'Evenement', 1866 (National Gallery, Washington), his first and last successful submission to the Salon.
Before 1895 Cezanne exhibited twice with the Impressionists (at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877). In later years a few individual paintings were shown at various venues, until 1895, when the Parisian dealer, Ambroise Vollard, gave the artist his first solo exhibition. Despite the increasing public recognition and financial success, Cezanne chose to work in increasing artistic isolation, usually painting in the south of France, in his beloved Provence, far from Paris. He concentrated on a few subjects and was highly unusual for 19th-century painters in that he was equally proficient in each of these genres: still lifes, portraits, landscapes and studies of bathers. For the last, Cezanne 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 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.
Although religious images appeared less frequently in Cezanne's later work, he remained a devout Roman Catholic and said, "When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God-made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art."
Death of Cezanne
One day, Cezanne was caught in a storm while working in the field. Only after working for two hours under a downpour did he decide 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 he was working with called for help; he was put to bed, and he never left it again. He died a few days later, on October 22, 1906. He died of pneumonia and was buried at the old cemetery in his beloved hometown of Aix-en-Provence.
Main periods of Cezanne's work
Various periods in the work and life of Cezanne have been defined. Cezanne created hundreds of paintings, some of which command considerable market prices. On May 10, 1999, Cezanne's painting Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier sold for $60.5 million, the fourth-highest price paid for a painting up to that time. As of 2006, it is the most expensive still life ever sold at an auction.
The dark period, Paris, 1861-1870
In 1863 Napoleon III created by decree the Salon des Refuses, at which paintings rejected for display at the Salon of the Academie des Beaux-Arts were to be displayed. The artists of the refused works included the young Impressionists, who were considered revolutionary. Cezanne was influenced by their style but his inept social relations with them he seemed rude, shy, angry, and given to depression resulted in a period characterized by dark colors and the heavy use of black. His work from this period differs sharply from his earlier watercolours and sketches at the Ecole Speciale de dessin at Aix-en-Provence in 1859, or from his subsequent works. Among the works of his dark period were paintings such as The Murder (c.1867-68); the words antisocial or violent are often used.
Impressionist period, Provence and Paris, 1870-1878
After the start of the Franco-Prussian War in July, 1870, Cezanne and his mistress, Marie-Hortense Fiquet, left Paris for L'Estaque, near Marseilles, where he changed themes to predominantly landscapes. He was declared a draft-dodger in January, 1871, but the war ended in February and the couple moved back to Paris, in the summer of 1871. After the birth of their son Paul in January, 1872, in Paris, they moved to Auvers in Val-d'Oise near Paris. Cezanne's mother was kept a party to family events, but his father was not informed of Hortense for fear of risking his wrath. Hortense for fear of risking his wrath. The artist received from his father an allowance of 100 francs.
Pissarro lived in Pontoise. There and in Auvers, he and Cezanne painted landscapes together. For a long time afterwards, Cezanne described himself as Pissarro's pupil, referring to him as "God the Father" and saying, "We all stem from Pissarro". Under Pissarro's influence Cezanne began to abandon dark colours and his canvases grew much brighter.
Leaving Hortense in the Marseille region, Cezanne moved between Paris and Provence, exhibiting in the first (1874) and third Impressionist shows (1877). In 1875, he attracted the attention of the collector Victor Chocquet, whose commissions provided some financial relief. But Cezanne's exhibited paintings attracted hilarity, outrage and sarcasm. Reviewer Louis Leroy said of Cezanne's portrait of Chocquet: "This peculiar looking head, the colour of an old boot might give [a pregnant woman] a shock and cause yellow fever in the fruit of her womb before its entry into the world".
In March 1878, Cezanne's father found out about Hortense and threatened to cut Cezanne off financially but, in September, he decided to give him 400 francs for his family. Cezanne continued to migrate between the Paris region and Provence until Louis-Auguste had a studio built for him at his home, Jas de Bouffan, in the early 1880s. This was on the upper floor and an enlarged window was provided, allowing in the northern light but interrupting the line of the eaves. This feature remains today. Cezanne stabilized his residence in L'Estaque. He painted with Renoir there in 1882 and visited Renoir and Monet in 1883.
Mature period, Provence, 1878-1890
In the early 1880's the Cezanne family stabilized their residence in Provence, where they remained, except for brief sojourns abroad, from then on. The move reflects a new independence from the Paris-centered impressionists and a marked preference for the south, Cezanne's native soil. Hortense's brother had a house within view of Mont Sainte-Victoire at Estaque. A run of paintings of this mountain from 1880-1883 and others of Gardanne from 1885-1888, are sometimes known as "the Constructive Period".
The year 1886 was a turning point for the family. Cezanne married Hortense. In that year also, Cezanne's father died, leaving him the estate purchased in 1859; he was 47. By 1888 the family was in the former manor, Jas de Bouffan, a substantial house and grounds with outbuildings, which afforded a new-found comfort. This house, with much-reduced grounds, is now owned by the city and is open to the public on a restricted basis.
Also in that year Cezanne broke off his friendship with Emile Zola, after the latter used him, in large part, as the basis for the unsuccessful and ultimately tragic fictitious artist Claude Lantier, in the novel. Cezanne considered this a breach of decorum and a friendship begun in childhood was irreparably damaged.
Final period, Provence, 1890-1905
Cezanne's idyllic period at Jas de Bouffan was temporary. From 1890 until his death he was beset by troubling events and he withdrew further into his painting, spending long periods as a virtual recluse. His paintings became well-known and sought after and he was the object of respect from a new generation of painters.
The problems began with the onset of diabetes in 1890, destabilizing his personality to the point where relationships with others were again strained. He travelled in Switzerland, with Hortense and his son, perhaps hoping to restore their relationship. Cezanne, however, returned to Provence to live; Hortense and Paul junior, to Paris. Financial need prompted Hortense's return to Provence but in separate living quarters. Cezanne moved in with his mother and sister. In 1891 he turned to Catholicism.
Cezanne alternated between painting at Jas de Bouffan and in the Paris region, as before. In 1895 he made a germinal visit to Bibemus Quarries and climbed Mt. Ste. Victoire. The labyrinthine landscape of the quarries must have struck a note, as he rented a cabin there in 1897 and painted extensively from it. The shapes are believed to have inspired the embryonic 'Cubist' style. Also in that year, his mother died, an upsetting event but one which made reconciliation with his wife possible. He sold the empty nest at Jas de Bouffan and rented a place on Rue Boulegon, where he built a studio.
The relationship, however, continued to be stormy. He needed a place to be by himself. In 1901 he bought some land along the Chemin des Lauves ("Lauves Road"), an isolated road on some high ground at Aix, and commissioned a studio to be built there (the 'atelier', now open to the public). He moved there in 1903. Meanwhile, in 1902, he had drafted a will excluding his wife from his estate and leaving everything to his son. The relationship was apparently off again; she is said to have burned the mementos of his mother.
From 1903 to the end of his life, he painted in his studio, working for a month in 1904 with Emile Bernard, who stayed as a house guest. After his death it became a monument, Atelier Paul Cezanne, or les Lauves.
After Cezanne died in 1906, his paintings were exhibited in Paris in a large scale museum-like retrospective in September 1907. The 1907 Cezanne retrospective at the Salon d'Automne greatly impacted 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.
Cezanne's explorations of geometric simplification and optical phenomena inspired Picasso, Braque, Gris, and others to experiment with ever more complex multiple views of the same subject, and, eventually, to the fracturing of form. Cezanne 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.