Paul Cézanne was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th-century conception of artistic endeavour to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th-century Impressionism and the early 20th century's new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism.
Paul Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence in the South of France. His father was a banker affording him financial security. At Collège Bourbon he met Émile Zola and Baptistin Baille who became "les trois inséparables". At the Free Municipal School of Drawing, he studied under Joseph Gibert, a Spanish monk. From 1858 to 1861, complying with his father's wishes, Cézanne attended the law school of the University of Aix, while also receiving drawing lessons. Going against the objections of his banker father, he 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 Cézanne and supported his choice of career.
In Paris, Cézanne met the Impressionist Camille Pissarro. from what, their landscape painting excursions led to a collaborative working relationship between equals. Cézanne's early work is often concerned with the figure in the landscape and includes 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. Nevertheless, in Cézanne's mature work there is 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.
Cézanne was interested in the simplification of naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials. Cézanne's paintings were shown in the first exhibition of the Salon des Refusés in 1863, which displayed works not accepted by the jury of the official Paris Salon. The Salon rejected Cézanne's submissions every year from 1864 to 1869. He continued to submit works to the Salon until 1882. In that year, he exhibited Portrait of Louis-Auguste Cézanne, Father of the Artist, reading 'l'Evénement', 1866 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), his first and last successful submission to the Salon.
In 1863 Napoleon III created by decree the Salon des Refusés, at which paintings rejected for display at the Salon of the Académie des Beaux-Arts were to be displayed. The artists of the refused works included the young Impressionists, who were considered revolutionary. His works of this period are characterized by dark colours and the heavy use of black. In 1866–67, inspired by the example of Courbet, Cézanne painted a series of paintings with a palette knife. He later called these works, mostly portraits, une couillarde ("a coarse word for ostentatious virility"). After the start of the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870, Cézanne and his mistress, Marie-Hortense Fiquet, left Paris for L'Estaque, near Marseilles, where he changed themes to predominantly landscapes. When the war ended, he moved back to Paris where his son Paul was born in January. Leaving Hortense in the Marseille region, Cézanne 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 Cézanne's exhibited paintings attracted hilarity, outrage, and sarcasm. Cézanne stabilized his residence in L'Estaque. He painted with Renoir there in 1882 and visited Renoir and Monet in 1883.
The move reflects a new independence from the Paris-centered impressionists and a marked preference for the south, Cézanne's native soil. The year 1886 was a turning point for the family. Cézanne married Hortense. In that year also, Cézanne'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. Also in that year Cézanne broke off his friendship with Émile 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 L'Œuvre. Cézanne considered this a breach of decorum and a friendship begun in childhood was irreparably damaged.
Cézanne'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 traveled in Switzerland, with Hortense and his son, perhaps hoping to restore their relationship. Cézanne, 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. Cézanne alternated between painting at Jas de Bouffan and in the Paris region, as before. In 1895 he made a germinal visit to Bibémus, the quarries must have struck a note, as he rented a cabin there in 1897 and painted extensively from it. 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, an isolated road on some high ground at Aix, and commissioned a studio to be built there (now open to the public). He moved there in 1903. From 1903 to the end of his life he painted in his studio, working for a month in 1904 with Émile Bernard, who stayed as a house guest. After his death it became a monument, Atelier Paul Cézanne, or les Lauves.
Still Life with a Curtain (1895) illustrates Cézanne's increasing trend towards terse compression of forms and dynamic tension between geometric figures. Before 1895 Cézanne 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, Cézanne 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 equally proficient in each of these genres: still lifes, portraits, landscapes and studies of bathers. For the last, Cézanne 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 Gustave 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. Cézanne's paintings were not well received among the petty bourgeoisie of Aix.
One day, Cézanne 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. He regained consciousness, the following day he fainted, he was put to bed, and he never left it again. He died a few days later of pneumonia and was buried at the old cemetery in his beloved hometown of Aix-en-Provence.
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