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Paul Cezanne



Self Portrait

Aix-en-Provence was the sleepy medieval town in France where Paul Cezanne was born in 1839. It was the setting where he founded his lifelong friendship with Emile Zola, where the two spent their youthful days roaming the radiant countryside and reading Victor Hugo. This serene backdrop, complete with the towering Mount Sainte-Victoire behind him, molded young Paul into the artist now known for pioneering in the field of modernism.

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His serene yet vibrant artistic analyses of apples, bathers, and that indelible mountain weren't what Cezanne explored early on in his career. Cezanne had been given a thorough education, and his authoritarian father pushed him to become a lawyer. In 1858, at the age of 19, Paul was enrolled in the University of Aix-en Provence law school. Yet, after incessant prodding on Paul's behalf, the young artist was finally allowed to study at the Louvre in Paris. At 22, Paul was still quite underdeveloped emotionally. He was extremely shy, and his father's influence made him quite dark and moody. After spending months in the Louvre cramming his sketchbooks with Courbet, Reubens and Tintoretto, Paul decided to display some of his own paintings. The fiery painter was received unenthusiastically at the Academie de Beaux Arts, a crowd that only embraced Romantic and classical paintings. But Cezanne, the "sort of idiot who paints in throes of delirium", managed to find solace in the Salon des Refuses, where Monet, Pisarro, Renoir, and Degas started off as well.

Cezanne decided to retreat to the verdant countryside of Pontoise in 1872. There, the artist found companionship and mutual love for with Camille Pisarro. The two painted together, often side by side. Cezanne, however, decided to leave the Impressionist road he previously was traveling. Pisarro encouraged him to paint with greater discipline and lighter colors. Cezanne's style became almost mathematical-- short, calculated strokes now defined his apples and mountains, bringing to them life and structure as well.

After another failed exposition in Paris, Cezanne sought seclusion and found it in his hometown of Aix-en Provence. During this period of isolation, from the late 1870s to the early 1890s, Cezanne developed his mature style. He married Marie-Hortense in 1886, who became the subject of quite a number for his paintings. Yet in the paintings, she, like all of his subjects, was treated equally as the background. This was reflective of Cezanne's constant distrust of people, especially women, who became deemed as "calculatrices." Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Armchair shows how there is no longer any suggestion of a romantic decor; all is reduced to the purest terms of structural design.


Mount Sainte Victoire
Mount Sainte Victoire

While Cezanne had this cynicism towards humans, his attitude towards nature was quite the contrary. L'Etasque is perhaps the first masterpiece of the classic Cezanne. This painting has the exciting and radically new quality of simultaneously representing deep space and flat design. Using colors for perspective, Cezanne chose to rediscover a more substantial reality of simple forms behind the glimmering veil of appearances.

In his final years, Cezanne finally received accolades for his works-- the Salon des Independants in 1899 and the Exposition Universelle helped him to win many converts to his new style.

The final chapter of Cezanne's life reveal the immense height he reached as an artist. "The landscape," he said, "becomes human, becomes a thinking, living being within me. I become one with my picture...we merge in an iridescent chaos." His last paintings found power in rocks, trees, and his trademark mount Sainte Victiore. The last of his "Bathers" paintings integrated the nudes with a landscape in his structural vision of reality, which Picasso reflected in his "Demoiselles d'Avignon."

In October 1906 he was found collapsed after being caught in a violent thunderstorm, only to die days later, overwhelmed by his fight with diabetes.


Verdi, Richard Cezanne London, Thames and Hudson LTD, 1992

Vollard, Ambroise Cezanne Canada: General Publication Co., 1984

Dudar, Helen "Cezanne's Endless Quest No Parallel Nature's Harmony" Smithsonian v.27 (Apr. 16) pg. 82-88

Edited by: Farah Fareed and Darilee Cummings, Von Stueben High School, Chicago, IL
Researched by: Cynthis Cruz and Julia Sorisho, Von Stueben High School, Chicago, IL
Written by: Julia Sorisho, Von Stueben High School, Chicago, IL
29 April 1998

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