Paul Cezanne, French (1839-1906)
Paul Cezanne was born on January 19, 1839 in Aix-en-Provence in France. His first colors were given to him by his father, who later despaired of his becoming a banker instead of a painter. Paul had a peculiar personality as a child, impressionable and stormy. He had his first lessons in drawing from a Spanish monk at boarding school. At thirteen he went to Lycee at Aix where he met Emile Zola; the two became intimate friends, and inseparable. This boyhood friendship was perhaps the happiest time of Cezanne's life. The boys went swimming together and did all the activities that boys do as they grow up.
In addition, Cezanne, inspired by Zola, wrote some poetry. No prodigy, slow but conscientious, he was fascinated by chemistry and the classics. He even played the cornet in his school band. He was encouraged by his mother, from whom he got his sensitivity, but his father was outraged that a banker's son would choose such work. Paul was timid and afraid of him; he gave in and registered with the Law Faculty at Aix in 1858-59. He was torn between staying in Aix with his father and art teacher, M. Gilbert, who didn't want to lose him, and going to Paris with Zola and his yearnings for art.
In 1867 his father gave his consent and took him to Paris and left him. He studied at the Academie Suisse in the daytime and spent more of his time with Zola but became easily discouraged and went back to Aix. He adopted painting as his profession with an annual allowance of 2600 francs from his father. He was never able to support himself; he sold hardly anything at all. His father took him back into the bank but still he painted. He painted compositions on the walls of the Jas de Bouffan, but signed four of the panels 'Ingres' for a joke. His father allowed him to return to Paris finally thereby recognizing the young man's great gift.
He impatiently tried to get in the Ecole des Beaux Arts but was rejected because his painting was too extreme. He was an incurable romantic and was incapable of holding on to his money. He was influenced a lot by Rubens and impressed by the Louvre. In 1863 he became acquainted with Renoir and Manet.
Cezanne became known as one of the most extreme of the young revolutionary painters, the bitterest in his denunciation of official art and of Ingres, who, then in his old age, was regarded as the head of the reactionaries. In this way, Cezanne became acquainted with the group of painters who encircled Manet and who afterward became known as the Impressionists. Manet was the masterful dominating personality of the group at Cafe Guerbois. But at this period, Cezanne was most influenced by Delacroix and by the Baroque painters whom Delacroix studied, i.e., Rubens and Tinteretto.
In 1866 he tried unsuccessfully to enter the Salon de Bouguereau. Officialdom from the first was hostile to Cezanne who became a cynic and would not join the famous gatherings of other painters at Cafe Guerbois. He alternated between painting at Aix and at Paris. In 1872 he went to Auvers where he felt freer, and where Pissarro was also painting. In 1874 Cezanne exhibited with the Society of Painters, Sculptors and Gravers which had some success at Salon des Refuses. In 1877 he exhibited again for the last time with the same group of other painters, known then as the impressionists. His paintings aroused universal condemnation. M. Choquet, a collector, was one of his few friends and patrons.
Cezanne's lifelong ambition was to hang in the Salon des Artistes Francais. Every year he sent two canvases but was consistently rejected. In 1882 a portrait was accepted but that was because his friend Guillanet sneaked it in for him. He was accepted in 1889 in the Universal Exposition through the influence and insistence of M. Choquet.
His paintings became richer, more intense and vivid in color, more agitated in rhythm, more vehement in accent. They also departed more and more from careful analysis of natural appearance, as though his apprenticeship to nature had ceased and he felt free to follow unhesitatingly his instinctive feeling. He led a secluded life in Aix toward the end of his life. In 1880's and 1890's his name had became almost unknown in larger art circles in Paris, although he never lacked a few enthusiastic admirers. Gradually his fame began to circulate among the more intelligent artists and in 1904 a retrospective exhibition of his works in the Autumn Salon revealed to the public the existence of this almost unknown genius.
There was much bickering and prejudice between the Salon and Cezanne. Since he couldn't seem to arrange to get his paintings hung, Vollard arranged a one-man show. After much chasing Cezanne around France and trouble with arrangements the show opened in December 1895. It created much excitement and was considered an outrage to art. He received no respect from either the public or other painters.
Cezanne would fly into a rage at anything while painting and tear canvas up, poke holes into painting or the first thing that came into his head. He could not endure either Van Gogh's or Gauguin's painting; he thought Puvis de Chavannes a poor imitation of nature. He disliked Whistler and Fantin Latour also, but all these had the same opinion of him. He was certainly not facile; he worked on a painting until the result he wanted was achieved. He wanted all his life to be decorated by the Beaux Arts but never reached that goal. In 1904 the Sale d'Autumne devoted an entire room to Cezanne. He became more desirable in the eyes of collectors but there was still much hostility toward him.
Cezanne was at the peak of his power in 1892-1903, when he painted his best. He was always ill at ease with sophisticated Paris. Every painting was a tremendous problem for him; he never felt as though he had entirely conquered it. He felt that painting from nature did not mean copying the object but realizing one's sensations; yet he never worked with a model.
Cezanne lived from 1884 through 1887 at Aix. He was almost forgotten except by his painter friends. His father had died in 1885 and his mother eight years later. He had married Hortense Fequet in April 1886. He had broken relations with Zola after Zola became successful. Cezanne suffered from diabetes, which robbed him of his strength, but he would paint just as hard. He got caught in a storm, became ill and died on October 22, 1906.
Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.
ARTnews, May 1990
"Cezanne: Studies in Contrast" by Linda Hochlin, Art in America, June 1996
"Cezanne" by Winthrop Sargeant, Look Magazine, date unknown
"Cezanne's Gentle Apocalypse" by Jed Perl, Art & Antiques, May 1995
Peter Plagens in Newsweek, February 27, 1989
From the Internet, Webmuseum, Paris