Cezanne, Paul

from The New Book of Knowledge®


The study of modern painting often begins with the work of the painter Paul Cézanne. His paintings had so great an influence on modern art that the artist Georges Braque said, "We all start from Cézanne."


Paul Cezanne. 1839-1906, French. Peaches and Pears. 1888-90. Oil on canvas. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia. © Anatoly Sapronenkov / SuperStock

Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence, in southern France, on January 19, 1839. Although he spent much of his adult life in Paris, the town drew him back time and time again. There, as boys, he and his school friend Émile Zola wandered through the hills, reciting poetry. Together they dreamed of fame and success in Paris.

Cézanne's father, a wealthy banker, wanted his son to be a success in business or law. But in 1861 he finally permitted Cézanne to go to Paris. He hoped his son's paintings would be accepted by the Paris Salon, the exhibition sponsored by the French Academy of Fine Arts. Cézanne did not like the kind of paintings shown at the Salon. But he craved recognition, and he submitted a painting. When it was rejected, he was deeply hurt.

Because he was drawn naturally to country life, Cézanne disliked Paris. He neither combed his beard nor cared how much paint covered his coat. He was gloomy, awkward, and hot-tempered, and he had few friends.

In 1886, Zola wrote a book about a painter who was a failure. Everyone thought that Cézanne was the model for the artist in the book. Cézanne was so hurt that he never again spoke to his one close friend.

During the same year his father died and left Cézanne a rich man with enough money for himself, his wife (Hortense Fiquet), and their son, Paul.

Throughout the last 20 years of his life, Cézanne isolated himself from people and devoted himself entirely to his work. He died in Aix on October 22, 1906.

It took years of searching for Cézanne to find the way to express his ideas. In his mature paintings he tried to show the geometric forms--cylinders, cones, spheres--that he saw in nature. By using blocks of color he built up the appearance of solid shapes. To emphasize volume--the roundness of an apple or the thickness of a stone--he changed the actual appearance of objects. This distortion of shapes led directly to the style of painting called cubism.

Only ten years before his death, a small group of painters recognized Cézanne's genius. But even they did not foresee his impact on the painting of the 20th century.

Reviewed by Frank Getlein
The French Impressionists


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