Paul Cézanne is considered an artist of the Post-Impressionism era, although he was a contemporary and friend of the Impressionists. Those contemporaries rightfully counted him among the Impressionists – Cézanne had exhibited with the Impressionists at the first 1874 exhibition, consequently, even the critic Leroy branded him, as he did the others, with this label. While working alongside Monet, Renoir and Pissarro, who were his friends all his life, Cézanne appraised their painting critically and followed his own, independent path. The Impressionists’ aspiration to copy nature objectively did not satisfy him. “One must think”, he said, ‘the eye is not enough, thinking is also necessary”. Cézanne’s own system of painting was born in a dispute with Impressionism.
Paul Cézanne was born on January 19, 1839, in the city of Aix-en-Provence, where his father had founded a bank. At the Age of thirteen, his father sent him to boarding school at Bourbon College, where Paul studied for six years.
These years would have been rather unhappy had he not made friends at the College. A boy from a poor family, Émile Zola, the dynamic excellent student Jean-Baptiste Baille and the shy Paul Cézanne became an inseparable trio.
In Aix there was also a free drawing school, where Cézanne began to busy himself in the evenings from 1858 on. But, his father had linked his son’s future with the bank; however, Paul rebelled against it from the very beginning.
In 1859, Cézanne‘s father bought an estate near Aix. Jas de Bouffan, which in the Provencal dialect means, “Home of the Winds” was situated on a small rise and had vineyards. At the time of Louis XIV, it had been the palace of the Provence governor. The living rooms of the ancient house were repaired and Paul installed a studio upstairs.
He came to love this place and often painted the deserted park, the lane of old nut trees and the pool with the stone dolphins. In his letters, Zola persistently demonstrated his faith in his friend’s talent as an artist and invited his friend to Paris: “You must satisfy your father by studying law as assiduously as possible. But you must also work seriously on drawing.”
Paul’s father was obstinate, but, finally, he gave in, not having lost hope that his son would change his mind. Paul was able to abandon law and leave for Paris to take up painting. Finally, in 1861, Paul’s father himself took the future artist to Paris and promised to send him 250 francs every month.
In the novel L’OEuvre, Zola endows his hero with the young Cézanne‘s appearance such as it was when he showed up in Paris: “A skinny boy, with knobbly joints, a stubborn spirit and a bearded face…”. This is how Cézanne also appears in the self-portraits of his Parisian youth: a beard, which covered the lower part of his face, forcefully sculpted cheekbones, and a serious, sharp stare.
Paris life did not spoil Cézanne. The joy of meeting with Zola, their first excursions together to the museums, and walks around the city and its suburbs gave way to the harsh regimen of work. Most of all, Cézanne went to the Swiss Academy on the Ile de la Cité.
But he missed Aix, its valleys and the Mont Sainte-Victoire, and the friends he left behind. Paris disappointed him. But chiefly, he was constantly dissatisfied with himself. Cézanne found many friends at the Swiss Academy and friends they remained.
Pissarro immediately appreciated Cézanne‘s boldness and ingenuity. Very likely, Armand Guillaumin, who later exhibited with the Impressionists, introduced them. Then Pissarro brought Cézanne to his friends – Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Bazille. In that same 1866, Cézanne became acquainted with Édouard Manet – through the mediation of mutual acquaintances, he obtained permission to visit Manet’s studio. After his visit, the master himself arrived at Guillaumin’s studio to see Paul’s still lives that were there. Cézanne always sensed the distance that separated him, a provincial painter just starting out, from the elegant, worldly Parisian, Manet. However, by virtue of his stubborn, cocky nature, he flaunted his own coarse provincialism.
Cézanne, like all artists, wanted to show his paintings, and this meant exhibiting at the Salon. He carried his canvases on a hand truck and impatiently awaited the jury’s decision, although he understood that his painting could not be accepted. Cézanne only succeeded in showing his canvases to the public for the first time at the first exhibition of Impressionists in 1874.
Cézanne‘s painting constantly surprised not only the jury, but also those artists who regarded him kindly. Once, when he was working ‘en plein air’, the landscape painter, Charles-François D’Aubigny, who lived in Auvers, saw him. However, it was not within his power to win over the jury.
When Cézanne was painting with his friends – the Impressionists – the difference between their works was striking. The motifs of his landscapes are those same banks of the Seine which Claude Monet, Sisley and Pissarro painted. Monet fragmented the colours of the trees and their reflections in the water into a multitude of minute flecks of pure colour, achieving impressions of movement and his colours radiated the sunlight. Cézanne, on the contrary, selected a single, conventional, sufficiently dark greenish blue with which he painted both the water and the bank of the Marne. He needed colour only to extrapolate volume. The effect proved to be directly the opposite of the impressionistic: the smooth river was absolutely still and not a single leaf fluttered on the trees, which stood out on the canvas like dense rounded masses….
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