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Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906)

Related: modern art - French art


Paul Cézanne (January 19, 1839 – October 22, 1906) was a French artist, a painter (Postimpressionist) 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. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th Century Impressionism and the early 20th Century's most startling new line of artistic enquiry, namely Cubism. The line attributed to both Matisse and Picasso that Cézanne "...is the father of us all..." cannot be easily refuted. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_C%C3%A9zanne [Jun 2006]

Father of modernism

Paul Cézanne began painting in the late 1850s. He had to struggle to be recognised as an artist. For him and his contemporaries, the place to exhibit was the Paris Salon. The Salon was the centre of French art, but was conservative and after the defeat of the 1848 revolution the Salon became even more reactionary. When it rejected most of Cézanne's work he then came into contact with other artists, such as Pissarro and Monet. Like them, he became very critical of the art establishment. He hated the government controlled exhibition system and the official styles.

He exhibited with the impressionists but was always on the fringes of this movement. Impressionism developed just after the Paris Commune of 1871. The attempt at the first workers' government was smashed and the ruling class became highly suspicious of anything new and radical. The Impressionist exhibitions of 1874 and 1877 received a lot of abuse, some of it stirred up by the government. Cézanne himself received his fair share of criticism but he was always uncomfortable with Impressionism and went his own way.

Cézanne was a very secret person, although he confided in his friend, the novelist Emile Zola, through letters. Much of what we can say about him is assumption. He relied on allowances from his father, of whom he was frightened. He kept his mistress--who later became his wife--and his child secret, in case he lost his allowance. He seemed not to talk or engage in politics. yet his paintings reflected the anxiety of France with its rapid industrialisation and social upheaval of the 1880s and 1890s.

As an artist, Cézanne fits more with the post-Impressionists such as Seurat, Bonnard, Gauguin and Van Gogh. These artists were not just interested in the new sciences in colour theory, but also in content and method. Their paintings reflected the material and psychological change that capitalism brought to French society. Cézanne also reflected this.

His move back to Provence, like Monet, meant retreating into 'pure painting'. For Cézanne this period was rewarding. The stories of him destroying canvasses in frustration are not unique in art and are probably overexaggerated. He set about creating a new language in painting through observation. This was nothing new--painters such as Constable, Turner and Monet did the same thing.

But Cézanne was to completely reconstruct the picture. Through constant looking, the image he created can change through the change in light or by just slightly moving from the original viewpoint. What you see and what you think you see can be totally different things. Cézanne went further, and saw shapes in the landscape divided into cubes and cylinders. His still life paintings were experiments in the harmony of shapes and objects. However, he was also capable of introducing antagonisms into paintings with a few paint marks and with gestures that could see beyond the conventional picture. His landscape painting showed that the harmony of nature was made up of antagonisms.

Although Cézanne is seen as the 'father of Modernism' , he died before he was able to develop the style fully--a task which was left to Picasso and Braque, with the creation of Cubism and a completely new language in art. -- Stave Bassendale via http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/sr195/art.htm [Jun 2006]

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