Paul Cézanne, born in Aix en Provence in the early 1800s, created impressionist and post-impressionist pieces for the duration of his life as painter; most remembered are his Bathers and scenic landscape oil paintings of provincial areas of France. Cézanne explored and fixed colour and nature through a multitude of mediums, leaving behind too striking works of watercolour, pencil, and gouache closer to the end of his life.
Of note are the two extremes in which he was evaluated as a creative over a 20 year period:
April 1874: Once described by a female art critic as a “madman in a state of delirium tremens.”
1890s: Starts receiving critical interest
December 1895: After a successful exhibition with art dealer Ambroise Vollard, Paul Cézanne gains critical recognition and success: “Passers-by walking into the Galerie Vollard, in Rue Laffitte, will be faced with about fifty pictures: figures, landscapes, fruit, flowers, from which they can finally reach a verdict on one of the finest and greatest personalities of our time! Once that has happened, and it is high time that it did happen, all that is dark and legendary about Cézanne’s life will disappear, and what remains will be a rigorous and yet attractive, masterly, and yet naive life’s work… He is a great fanatic for the truth, fiery and naive, austere and subtle. He will end up in the Louvre,” notes Gustave Geffrey, art critic.
Cézanne struggled with euphoria, depression, and feeling despair throughout his entire life. While renowned as a great artist, he spent much of his life as the reclusive type, and avoided the company of most females due to having a shyness, fear, and mistrust in women that developed from childhood. It is recorded, “I am under orders not to touch him, not even with my dress when I go past him.” – housekeeper Madame Brémond
Cézanne to his mother: “I begin to find myself superior to those around me, and you know that the good opinion I have of myself had only been reached after mature consideration. I must always work, but not to achieve a final polish, which is for the admiration of imbeciles. And this thing which is commonly so appreciated is only the accomplishment of an artisan’s skill and makes every work resulting from it in artistic and vulgar. I must strive after completion only for the pleasure of giving added truth and learning. And believe me, there always comes a time when one arrived, and one had much more fervent and devoted admirers than those who are flattered by vain appearances.”
Here are some of my favorite works from Paul Cézanne:
Regarding his painting style: “Nothing in the individual areas of colour bears any specific relationship with the visible world of objects, and it is not possible to identify trees, fields, or houses. Only the interaction between the different elements within the painting asa whole enables us to recognize an objective reality.” – Ulrike Becks-Malorny
“Nature is not on the surface, it is in the depths. Colours are on the surface expression of this depth. They grow up from the roots of the world. They are its life, the life of ideas.” – Cezanne
“So Cézanne’s concern was far from being that of conveying the illusion of a three-dimensional world to the viewer. Rather he was creating a new reality using the two-dimensional surface of the painting. He simply sought to create an awareness of the two- dimensionality of the picture, this new “realization” of nature, and so it was important for him to avoid using traditional linear perspective, which creates the illusion of three-dimensional depth. In addition, if he had used strict linear perspective, he would have had to depict every object the size required by perspective. But what Cézanne wanted to do was to show each object the size which he saw it. Apart from rejecting linear perspective, Cézanne also steered clear of the superior perspective so beloved of the Impressionists, in which the colours and forms of objects become more vague and indistinct the farther they are from the viewer.” – Ulrike Becks-Malorny
“Light is not a thing that can be reproduced, but something that must be depicted using something else: colours.” – Cézanne
How Paul Cézanne Viewed Color
“To Cézanne, colours are only the constituent elements of an image. Its form is determined by the way they are applied; the boundaries between colours are also the boundaries between forms. The light in his paintings has no existence in its own right; it is created by the colour.” – Ulrike Becks-Malorny
Cézanne depicts light with the brightest and strongest colors to signify its strength and brightness. So instead of a white bluish sky, he’s painting his skies with rich blue, greens, whites, etc.
Light is not a thing that can be reproduced, but something that must be depicted using something else: colours.” -Cézanne
Catch an exhibition running through September 26, 2021 and showing 250 of Paul Cézanne’s drawings, studies, and watercolours at the Museum of Moderrn Art.