Known for his contribution to the development of abstraction, Paul Cézanne is one of the most celebrated Post-Impressionist painters of the 20th century. His experimental and geometric artworks facilitated the formation of the avantgarde art movement Cubism.Read More
Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence, France. As a young boy, he enrolled at the free-drawing academy in Aix. He spent his childhood exploring Provence's wild surroundings, building an interest in a landscape that would become a frequent motif in his art.
After graduating from the Collége Bourbon, Cézanne enrolled in the University of Aix to study law. By 1861, he had abandoned his degree and moved to Paris to devote himself to art and join his friend and writer, Émile Zola. Cézanne spent the next two decades between Paris and Provence, befriending artists Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissarro.
During the 1860s, Cézanne's paintings were continuously rejected by the Paris Salon for being too experimental. In 1863, the artist's paintings were featured in the Salon des Refusés, an exhibition of works rejected by the jury of the Paris Salon, which gained considerable interest and precipitated the development of the avantgarde in painting.
Paul Cézanne's early paintings were characterised by small and heavy brushstrokes, and often focused on the figure in landscape. He frequently visited the Louvre and found influence in the Old Masters, including Peter Paul Rubens and Michelangelo. Impressionist contemporaries like Pissarro and Monet also inspired Cézanne and encouraged him to draw and paint outdoors.
The Murder (1867—1968) was created during Cézanne's 'Dark Period', a time where he focused on violent or suggestive themes using a dark palette and rough painterly textures. The dramatic painting depicts two figures attacking another figure in dark and moody surroundings.
Despite being influenced by his contemporaries in Paris, The Murder demonstrates Cézanne's interest in Romantic painters like Eugène Delacroix.
Paul Cézanne was interested in still lifes and experimented with shapes and colour to transform the mundane into something aesthetically pleasing.
In Jug, Curtain and Fruit Bowl (1893), Cézanne captures an unconventional perspective by painting multiple viewpoints of loose fruit and a jug on a white tablecloth. Though the objects in the painting look realistic, Cézanne's use of thick oil paint and short brushstrokes give the painting a two-dimensional, cartoon-like appearance.
In his series 'The Card Players' (1890s), Cézanne depicts Provencal working men playing cards in a number of different compositions. Each painting varies slightly from another in size, the number of players, and the surroundings where the game takes place.
Cézanne's portraits were developed from a series of drawings and sketches. The artist's studies encapsulate the everyday by capturing quiet moments of concentration. Similar to his still lifes, 'The Card Players' demonstrates Cézanne's interest in the ordinary and his ability to transform figurative subjects into still life objects.
'The Bathers' (1898—1905) is a series of paintings that Cézanne produced in the last years of his life. The work portrays nude bathers in a landscape, a classical subject evocative of Renaissance paintings by Titian and Poussin.
Unlike Titan's mythological figures, however, Cézanne's bathers are abstract nude forms that prefigure important modern artworks like Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) and Henri Matisse's The Swimming Pool (1952). Cézanne's paintings paved the way for different styles in Modernist painting, including Fauvism, Cubism, and geometric abstraction.
Cézanne painted and drew the Montagne Sainte-Victoire from different perspectives throughout his career as an artist. The landscape was familiar to him; it surrounded his hometown of Aix-en-Provence and embodied the culture and atmosphere of Provence.
In the series 'Mont Sainte-Victoire' (1904—1906), Cézanne uses differing perspectives and contrasting colours in an exploratory study of a familiar landscape. The paintings portray nature through geometric forms and provide a multifaceted observation of landscape in the Post-Impressionist era.
Paul Cézanne has been featured in solo and group exhibitions internationally.
Select solo exhibitions include Cézanne: Drawing, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2021); Paul Cézanne: Masterpieces from The Courtauld, KODE Art Museums of Bergen, Norway (2021); Cézanne Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London (2017); The Courtauld Cézannes, The Courtauld Gallery, London (2008); Cézanne a Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence (2007); Cézanne in Provence, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (2006); Cézanne: The Early Years 1859—1872, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1989); Paul Cézanne: an Exhibition of Watercolours, Tate, London (1946).
Group exhibitions featuring Cézanne's work include Pioneers, Lévy Gorvy Gallery, Hong Kong (2021); A Surrealist Art History, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2021); Paul Cézanne: Drawings/Tess Jaray: Roundels, Karsten Schubert, London (2020); Duino Elegies, Gagosian Gallery, New York (2020); Cézanne, Morandi, and Sanyu, Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong (2019); Pioneering Modern Painting: Cezanne & Pissarro 1865—1885, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2005).
Cézanne's artwork is featured in the collections of the Louvre Museum in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Courtauld Gallery in London.
Phoebe Bradford | Ocula | 2021