Paul Cézanne was a French painter. He was one of the leading figures for the development from impressionism to post-impressionism and has been considered one of the most important artists of European modernism.
Cézanne was originally part of the Impressionist movement, but eventually concluded that this style was too fluid and formless. In his search for a firmer structure and a more monumental overall effect, from the end of the 1870s he began to experiment with systematic color patterns and simplification of forms, surfaces and lines. Among other things, he used the different shades of color to create depth and depicted the same object from several points of view rather than using traditional perspective. With his analytical exploration and processing of painting's formal tools, he gained great importance for 20th-century art, not least as an inspiration for Cubism.
The start of the artist's career
Cézanne's father was a banker, and he grew up in good circumstances in Aix-en-Provence in southern France. He received his first artistic education at the art school in his hometown. Following his father's wishes, he then studied law in 1859–1861, but he gave it up to pursue his artistic dream and went to Paris where he attended the Académie Suisse in 1861–1863. In Paris, he met many of the later impressionists early on, such as Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. The meeting with Pissarro in particular proved to be important for Cézanne's later artistry.
However, his work beyond the 1860s was still characterized by a somewhat rough style in the spirit of realism, exemplified among other things by Onkel Dominique (1865–1867), one of his first major works. Often he also combined this with dark colors and dramatic contrasts between light and shadow that showed inspiration from the romantic artist Eugéne Delacroix. This period nevertheless took the form of a series of disappointments with little acceptance in the contemporaries, and partly as a struggle against the father who had wanted the career choice to be different.
From Impressionism to Post-Impressionism
In 1872 Cézanne moved to the small town of Pontoise in the Val-d'Oise northwest of Paris. There, in the following years, he painted a lot together with Pissarro, who gave him a serious introduction to impressionist techniques and theories. He began to focus on landscapes, which from then on became a dominant part of his circle of motifs. These were painted in the open air, which according to the Impressionists' ideal was a prerequisite for being able to give a completely truthful representation of the artist's experience of nature. At the same time, his use of color became lighter and his brushstrokes shorter.
The painting The House of the Hanged Man (1873) was illustrative of his new approach, but even then Cézanne had a distinctive perception of forms and colors which he retained for the rest of his career. In contrast to the Impressionists, he was more concerned with the underlying structure of the objects than with how they reflected the light, and this also resulted in more disciplined and systematic brushstrokes where the focus was that the colors should always complement each other in a chromatic unity. Another significant difference was that he used geometric shapes and architectural lines as an important part of the composition.
In 1874, Cézanne returned to Paris and participated in the Impressionists' first official exhibition. He was not at their second exhibition in 1876, but returned with 17 pictures at the third the following year. The Impressionists' style was controversial in its day, and Cézanne was the most experimental of them all. Therefore, his pictures also received extra harsh attention from the art critics and little understanding from the public, but nevertheless he continued to follow his own path undaunted. He retained his friendship with Pissarro, Renoir and Monet, but ended his collaboration with the Impressionists as a group and took new steps on his own in the development of a pioneering post-impressionist style.
At the same time, Cézanne began working with still life, which was a well-suited subject for his experiments with form, color and perspective. Among other things, he made a number of compositions with apples and decoratively draped cloths where each individual object was depicted from several angles, and he only used artistic means to give the objects depth.
Since he was financially dependent on his father, he often returned to his native Aix-en-Provence, but he also made several trips to the coastal village of L'Estaque near Marseille where he found some of his favorite subjects. In these images, he reached a grand simplification of the landscape where the sea rose like a clear and blue wall between tightly composed rock formations and the cubic masses of the village houses. The painting's two-dimensional surface was highlighted at the same time that he also created three-dimensional depth through shades of colour. This was a completely new move at the time and later had a great influence on the coming generation of modernist artists.
Cézanne spent the years 1882–1884 in the south of France, where he worked with Renoir and Monet, among others. Until 1895, when he settled down for good in Aix-en-Provence, he commuted between Paris and the south of France. During this period he made several portraits where he also achieved great effect with the help of systematic simplification. This was evident in The Boy in the Red Vest (1890–1895) and in The Cards (1890–1892), which he first painted with five people around the table in an interior. In the last variant, only two sat back and the interior was gone, only the rectangular surface of the table and the bottle remained. The genre-related and narrative elements that were traditionally prominent in such motifs had here been set aside for a monumental solution.
In the latter part of Cézanne's career, the heavy, pasty brushwork was replaced by a lighter and airier technique, but his characteristic treatment of lines and surfaces continued. He made large, figure-rich compositions such as the major work Bathers (Grandes Baigneuses, 1898–1905) where the figures had a majestic sculptural effect and were formulated into a closed and simplified composition, which by virtue of its simple geometric principles seemed monumental. At the same time, he also continued his focus on purely landscape motifs in the 1890s and early 2000s. One of the most famous were those of Mont Sainte-Victoire, which he painted in a number of versions. Ambroise Vollard, who was his art dealer, made a big exhibition in 1895, and after that his popularity rose until his death.
Cézanne's importance lay in the fact that he tightened up the picture surface with the help of form and colour. He emphasized the value of line and himself stated that he wanted to reduce nature's forms geometrically to cubes, cylinders and cones. He wanted to recreate the classical composition, its balance and calm. By simplifying the painterly means, he achieved the monumental structure and the great overall effect that he believed was lacking in impressionism, and he had a great influence on the further development of modernist movements in the 20th century.
Cézanne is represented in the National Gallery in Oslo with four paintings: Nature Morte (1890), Seated Man (1899) and two untitled landscapes from 1879 and 1885 respectively.
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