Child of a well-to-do
bourgeois family, he abandoned his studies of law at Aix-en-Provence to
pursue his artistic vocation. From 1861 he divided his time between Aix
and Paris; in fact he made his first trip to Paris that year. There he
attended the Aacadémie Suisse to prepare for the entrance examination
to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where he was not accepted. Disappointed, he
returned to Aix and until 1862 worked in his father’s bank. In the
coming years he lived alternately in Aix and Paris; he frequented the
painters who would become the Impressionists and he exhibited at the
Salon des Refusés. He continued to send his paintings to the Salon of
the Académie, the stronghold of the official artistic culture that
systematically rejected them. The works from this period are
distinguished by dark colors, heavy, thick colors and the irreverence
with which he treated painting (Scipio). In 1870, during the
Franco-Prussian war he moved to Estaque in Provence with Hortense
Fiquet his model, whom he later married. The years from 1872 to 1882
marked Cézanne’s “Impressionist” phase that was influenced mainly by
his friendship with Pissarro. In 1872 he joined the artist at Pontoise
and he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise as a guest of Dr. Gachet a friend of
the “new” painters (who also the last friend of Van Gogh). In 1874 he
participated, unsuccessfully, in the first Impressionist show with
three paintings, including The Suicide’s House and a Modern Olympia.
He only participated in two impressionist shows: in 1874 and 1877.
After that date he practically isolated himself in Provence and did not
exhibit practically anything for about twenty years. In 1883 he
withdrew to Provence and concentrated on developing a technique
exalting the volume of shapes through color that would distance him
from the Impressionists. During those years he insistently worked on
the same themes: views of Estaque, Monte Sainte-Victoire, mainly
still-lifes, portraits of his wife (Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Armchair,
1890-1894). His colleagues understood his works, but the critics did
not. It was only in the ‘nineties and the beginning of the twentieth
century that he achieved his first successes: his one-man show in 1895
was a triumph as was the exhibition at the Salon d’Automne in 1904 (in
the meantime he had also participated in the Salon des Indépendants of
1899, 1900 and 1902). In 1900 he became ill with diabetes and spent
nearly all his time at Aix-en-Provence. During the final years of his
life he worked on the great Bathers painting (1898-1904) a grandiose synthesis of studies he had made on the subject during the previous decade.
Scipio was a well-known model among the students of the Académie Suisse the painting school that Cézanne attended in Paris between 1865 and 1870. This painting, considered his youthful masterpiece, testifies to the enormous influence that Delacroix had on his development. Monet himself bought the painting and kept it in his bedroom.
Portrait of the Artist’s Father
Cézanne painted his father holding a copy of “L’Evénement” the journal in which Zola violently attacked “official art” in his review of the 1866 Salon. Behind him we see one of the artist’s still-life’s (Cup, sugar bowl and pear). His father, whom Zola defined as “scornful, republican, bourgeois, cold, meticulous and miserly” long opposed Paul’s desire to become a painter and forced him to study law for two years.
This is one of the erotic paintings of Cézanne’s earlier years that would disappear in his mature paintings. The painting, inspired by the parties Flaubert described in “Salambo” reveals a multiplicity of cultural references from Veronese to Delacroix, shedding light on Cézanne’s early artistic preferences.
A Modern Olympia
Cézanne borrowed Manet’s title Olympia and also the theme that had aroused an enormous scandal at the 1865 Salon. Cézanne, however, constructed his painting in depth and on a highly accentuated chiaroscuro, emphasizing the passion. The erotic theme was quite frequent during Cézanne’s early years.
This early painting was clearly inspired (as to the difficult subject) by Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass that Cézanne greatly admired. Cézanne, however, oriented himself towards a symbolic and visionary dimension that was also accentuated by his choice of violently contrasting colors as opposed to the older artist. The central figure dressed in dark clothes may be a self-portrait of painter.
View of Auvers
This an unfinished painting in which the artist had not yet achieved that specific plastic-structural mode of rendering landscapes that would characterize his works. In fact, this is one reason that has given rise to doubts about its authenticity. Cézanne was very close to Pissarro during his early years in Paris and his influence is evident in the view of the landscape from above.
The Suicide’s House
Presented at the first Impressionist Exhibition in 1874 this painting created quite a scandal as reported by Leroy in his review of the show published in Charivari. This painting is evidence of Cézanne’s proximity to the impressionist poetics that he became familiar with through his friendship with Pissarro. At the same time, however, it clearly demonstrates the distance between his universe and that of the new style of Parisian painting.
This painting dates from when Cézanne was in touch with the Impressionists. The previous year when he exhibited at Nadar’s studio he met the leading figures in Parisian art circles that he frequented periodically 1862 on the urging of his childhood friend the writer Emile Zola. Cézanne painted highly introspective self-portraits throughout his life. And he also used himself as one of the recurrent “motifs” in his paintings.
Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair
This painting can be dated with reasonable accuracy because the dress Hortense – Cézanne’s wife and model – is wearing was shown in an 1877 edition of “Mode Illustrée” a fashion magazine that she was known to read. The painting was exhibited at the Salon d’Automne during the 1907 retrospective show that definitively launched the painter from Aix as the “father” of the avant-garde; it aroused the interest of the poet Rilke who wrote several pages about it.
Even though he had begun to enjoy some successes (in 1882 one of his paintings had been accepted by the Salon for the first time) it was a period of great personal sadness. He reacted by taking refuge in solitude and work, and went ahead with the Bathers, unanimously acclaimed as one of the vertices of his art. His aim, in his own words was to “outdo Poussin in nature.”
This is one of the figures that comprised the groups of bathers in the paintings Cézanne did around 1875. It is believed that he was dipping into his memory of days spent on the river as a boy with Emile Zola who picked up the same atmosphere in his novel L’Opera that led to the break-up of their friendship. Cézanne was offended by the fact that he could be “recognized” as the protagonist. Paintings such as this also clearly recall the classical sculptures that Cézanne studied constantly.
Mount Saint Victoire
Ever since his youth Cézanne was fascinated by the calcareous mountain above Aix-en-Provence that dominates the valley of the Arc. He had begun painting it in the 'seventies when (even though he lived in Paris) he frequently visited his father, but it became a recurrent theme as of 1878.
In some paintings destined for the Mardi Gras of the Museum of Western Art in Moscow Cézanne focused on Harlequin, handling the figure with the grave and naive sadness of the Epinal prints (illustrations that were highly popular in the nineteenth century, especially among the poorer classes). His son explained that this series of paintings was done in Paris in the studio on Rue de Val-de-Grace; his son Paul is believed to have posed for them.
The Great Pine
This painting was done at Monbriant on the estate of Cézanne’s brother-in-law Conil. The tree was very important to the painter as revealed in his correspondence with Zola. In fact, the two youths would walk to it frequently.
Of the many paintings that Cézanne dedicated to nude bathers, this is one of the last that features a male. The subject gradually distanced itself from the classical sculpture that is recognizable in the early paintings in the series where (according to a typical attitude of all young nineteenth century painting) he tried to reconcile the traditional rendering of the nude with interest in the spontaneity of the anti-academic poses to seek, as in this painting, a dimension of plastic-chromatic correspondence between the nudes and the landscape.
Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Armchair
In the portraits from the this period, especially the series dedicated to his wife Hortense, Cézanne abandoned the traditional perspective cube in search of a new monumentality that led to talk of a revolution of pictorial space similar to Giotto’s innovations.
Nature morte: fruits sur tapis
Cézanne painted still-lifes throughout his career, and as was his custom, he returned to the “motif” time and time again. He told his friend Gasquet that objects, like nature, change day by day. In this case, the accentuated two-dimensionality, without any depth to the table, focuses attention on the interplay of form and color.
Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory
This is one of the most famous of the more than twenty portraits Cézanne painted of his wife. Hortense Fiquet was his model and they were married in 1886 after having lived together for years- and following the birth of their son that they had kept secret from his family. He painted these portraits with excruciating slowness, often taking more than one hundred and fifty sittings. In this rendition Cézanne did not fill in some parts of the canvas, creating an unfinished effect that other painters such as Matisse would also adopt.
Recicpiente e piatto con frutta su un tappeto
In Cézanne’s still life paintings we can often recognize the same objects. He must have been particularly fond of the items in this painting that crop up in many of his works through the years, such as the rope covered ginger jar, the sugar bowl and the green bowl.
The Card Player
The five canvases of card players were done at Aix starting in 1890 and each version was preceded by numerous portrait studies (the figure on the left has been identified as the Cézanne family’s gardener, Père Alexandre), while the sequence of versions gradually reduces the number of figures from five to two. The stimulus for this series came from a study of Louis Le Nain’s seventeenth century painting The Card Players that is housed in the Musée Granet at Aix.
Still Life with Plaster Cupid
Cézanne often used this plaster cast of Cupid attributed to the seventeenth century French sculptor Pierre Puget in his still-lifes. Both the dealer Vollard (who began to handle Cézanne’s paintings in 1895) as well as the painter Denis recalled having seen the figurine in the artist’s studio. In this painting the Cupid introduces an element of torsion in the “analytical” space that characterizes Cézannes still-lifes.Iconography
Woman with Coffee Pot
The model for this painting is unknown (it may have been one of the Cézanne family servants), but she appears in other works as well. The portrait is constructed according to a geometric modulation of volume (especially evident in his handling of the coffeepot and cup) that makes it one of the most significant works from this period of his career. Although Cézanne’s son said it was done in 1887 modern critics concur on a later date.
Rideau, Carafe et Assiette de Fruits
The tendency to dissolve traditional perspective led Cézanne to structure his still-lifes with a disquieting and vortical arrangement of the pieces, as if pulled by a centripetal force. In this case the nucleus is the carafe. This painting was done the same year that Vollard organized his first one-man show at the gallery.
In 1896 Cézanne spent a holiday with his family in Haute Savoie and was fascinated by the alpine landscape and its luminosity that was so strikingly different from sun-drenched Provence. He did a few paintings, such as this view of the chateau de Duingt on Lake Annecy seen from the banks of the Talloires.
The Large Bathers
This is Cézanne’s largest canvas, on which he worked for seven years in his studio at Lauves. It is also the first of the three versions considered to be the conclusion of the theme of the bathers. The palette is reduced to shades of ochre, lilac and greens, while the architecture of the painting is articulated by two groups of figures and two arboreal backdrops that open an empty central depth. The Bathers paintings were to be fundamental in the subsequent history of art and profoundly influenced all the leaders of the avant-garde movements from Matisse to Braque and from the Picasso to Moore.
Le Rocher Rouge
In this painting the landscape around Aix assumes a very particular structure. The rock on the right, outlined by the blue sky almost becomes a stage set, while the vegetation is rendered by a tight mosaic of crisscrossed brush strokes.
The subject of this painting is unknown. Probably it was a farmer from Aix since the painting was done after Cézanne had sold the Jas de Bouffon estate in 1899 (his father had purchased it 1859) near Aix that he painted many times. The portraits from this period are characterized by the solid construction in which space seems to develop from the figure while the subtle quality of the color is evidence of the artist’s studies on the use of watercolors.
The Gardener Vallier
The Gardener Vallier was a frequent subject of Cézanne’s late portraits as he sought a synthesis between the human figure and the surrounding landscape. The relaxed and light treatment of color reveals the mastery he had obtained through his experiences with watercolors.
Up to the end Mount Saint Victoire was one of Cézanne’s favorite subjects. The spatial and perspective deformations that characterized his revolt against traditional canons reached an essential point here, giving rise to a vision in which splotches of color form a mosaic that is but one step from pure abstraction.
During the last years of his career Cézanne concentrated on repeating the landscapes around Aix-en-Provence, barely – sometimes imperceptibly - varying the viewpoint as he sought an organic unity of the landscape through a handling of coloring that led to discussions of the “solidification” of Impressionism. His ambition was to restore the compactness of form through the vibration of color. It was a quest that preluded the incipient revolution of the historic avant-garde artistic movements. Le Chateau Noir was a nineteenth neo-Gothic building near Aix where the artist had his studio.
This is a painting from Cézanne’s last period, when his treatment of his beloved Provençal landscapes dissolved into a flickering of colors that he considered pure pigment. This is a garden view from the terrace south of the studio, of the Lauves estate near Aix where Cézanne had a studio.
Le Cabanon de Jourdan
This is the painting Cézanne was doing on 15 October 1906 when he was drenched by a rainstorm that caused the illness from which he was to die eight days later. The "hut" at Beauregard belonged to a merchant in Aix.