Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) part I

Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne

One of the most influential artists in the history of twentieth-century painting, Paul Cézanne has inspired generations of modern artists. Generally categorized as a Post-Impressionist, his unique method of building form with color and his analytical approach to nature influenced the art of Cubists, Fauvists, and successive generations of avant-garde artists. Beginning to paint in 1860 in his birthplace of Aix-en-Provence and subsequently studying in Paris, Cézanne’s early pictures of romantic and classical themes are imbued with dark colors and executed with an expressive brushwork in the tradition of Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863). Dramatic tonal contrasts and thick layers of pigment (often applied with a palette knife) exemplify the vigor in which Cézanne painted during the 1860s, especially apparent in the portrait series of his uncle Dominique Aubert, variously costumed as a lawyer, an artist, and a monk (53.140.1; 1993.400.1). This kind of costume piece is reminiscent of Édouard Manet’s Spanish paintings of the 1860s.

While the three works that Cézanne exhibited in 1874 at the first Impressionist exhibition were not fully in line with the Impressionist technique of quickly placing appliqués of pigment on the canvas, he did eventually abandon his relatively dark palette in exchange for brilliant tones and began painting out-of-doors, encouraged by the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro (1830–1903). His Bathers (1976.201.12) of 1874–75 demonstrates a developed style and tonal scale in one of his first paintings of this theme, which recurs in his oeuvre. The landscape of Bathers has the brilliance of plein-air painting, while the figures, drawn from the artist’s imagination (Cézanne rarely painted nudes from life), reconcile themselves within this setting. The complex process of drawing inspiration from these two sources, nature and memory, would occupy Cézanne in his later work. The Fisherman (Fantastic Scene) (2001.473), of about 1875, shares the same bright tones as Bathers, while its subject recalls the themes of fantasy familiar from the 1860s; it too could be the product of two polar sources.

In his still-life paintings from the mid-1870s, Cézanne abandoned his thickly encrusted surfaces and began to address technical problems of form and color by experimenting with subtly gradated tonal variations, or “constructive brushstrokes,” to create dimension in his objects. Still Life with Jar, Cup, and Apples shows Cézanne’s rejection of the intense contrasts of light and shadow of his earlier years in exchange for a refined system of color scales placed next to one another. The light of Impressionism resonates in this work, but signs of a revised palette are especially apparent in his muted tones. Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses (51.112.1), a mature work from the early 1890s, reveals Cézanne’s artistic evolution and mastery of this style of building forms completely from color and creating scenes with distorted perspectival space. The objects in this painting, such as the fruit and tablecloth, are rendered without use of light or shadow, but through extremely subtle gradations of color. In such still lifes as Dish of Apples (1997.60.1) of about 1875–77, as in his landscapes, Cézanne ignores the laws of classical perspective, allowing each object to be independent within the space of a picture while the relationship of one object to another takes precedence over traditional single-point perspective.

to be continued in part II