Paul Cezanne was a French
painter, often called the father of modern art, who strove to
develop a synthesis of naturalistic representation, personal expression,
Among the artists of his time, Cezanne perhaps has had the most profound
effect on the art of the 20th century. He was the greatest single
influence on both the French artist Henri Matisse, who admired
his color, and the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, who developed
Cezanne's compositional structure into the cubist style. During
the greater part of his own lifetime, however, Cezanne was largely
ignored, and he worked in isolation. He mistrusted critics, had
few friends, and, until 1895, exhibited only occasionally. He
was alienated even from his family, who found his behavior peculiar
and failed to appreciate his revolutionary art.
Early Life and Work
Cezanne was born in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence,
January 19, 1839, the son of a wealthy banker. His boyhood companion
was Zola, who later gained fame as a novelist. Cezanne developed
artistic interests at an early age, much to the dismay of his
father. In 1862, after a number of bitter family disputes, he
was given a small allowance and sent to study art in Paris. He
was drawn to the more radical elements of the Parisian art world.
He especially admired the romantic painter Eugene Delacroix and,
among the younger masters, Gustave Courbet and the notorious Edouard
Manet, who exhibited realist paintings that were shocking in both
style and subject matter to most of their contemporaries.
Influence of the Impressionists
Many of Cezanne's early works were painted in dark tones applied
with heavy, fluid pigment. Cezanne gradually developed a commitment
to the representation of contemporary life, painting the world
he observed. The most significant influence on the work of his
early maturity proved to be Camille Pissarro. Pissarro not only
provided the moral encouragement that the insecure Cezanne required,
but he also introduced him to the new impressionist technique
for rendering outdoor light. Under Pissarro's tutelage, Cezanne
shifted from dark tones to bright hues and began to concentrate
on scenes of farmland and rural villages.
Return to Aix
Although he seemed less technically accomplished than the other Impressionists,
Cezanne was accepted by the group and exhibited with them in 1874
and 1877. Cezanne's works received the harshest critical commentary.
He drifted away from many of his Parisian contacts during the
late 1870s and '80s and spent much of his time in his native Aix.
After 1882, he did not work closely again with Pissarro. In 1886,
Cezanne became embittered over what he took to be thinly disguised
references to his own failures in one of Zola's novels. As a result
he broke off relations with his oldest supporter. In the same
year, he inherited his father's wealth and finally, at the age
of 47, became financially independent, but socially he remained
Cezanne's Use of Color
This isolation and Cezanne's concentration and singleness of purpose
may account for the remarkable development he sustained during
the 1880s and '90s. In this period he continued to paint studies
from nature in brilliant impressionist colors, but he gradually
simplified his application of the paint to the point where he
seemed able to define volumetric forms. He reintroduced a formal
structure that the impressionists had abandoned, without sacrificing
the sense of brilliant illumination they had achieved. Cezanne
himself spoke of "modulating" with color rather than"modeling"
which he said, was "parallel to nature". For Cezanne,
the answer to all the technical problems of Impressionism lay
in a use of color both more orderly and more expressive than that
of his fellow impressionists.
Cezanne's goal was, in his own mind, never fully attained. He left
most of his works unfinished and destroyed many others. The succeeding
generation of painters, however, eventually came to be receptive
Significance of Cezanne's Work
For many years Cezanne was known only to his Impressionist colleagues
and to a few younger radical postimpressionist artists, including
Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. In 1895, however, Ambroise
Vollard, an ambitious Paris art dealer, arranged a show of Cezanne's
works and over the next few years promoted them successfully.
By 1904, Cezanne was featured in a major official exhibition,
and by the time of his death (in Aix on October 22, 1906) he had
attained legendary status. During his last years many younger
artists traveled to Aix to observe him at work and to receive
any words of wisdom he might offer. Both his style and his theory
remained mysterious and cryptic; he seemed to some a naive primitive,
while to others he was a sophisticated master of technical procedure.
The intensity of his color, coupled with the rigor of his composition,
signaled that, he had synthesized the expressive and representational
elements of painting in an original way.