Paul Cezanne Artwork Analysis Essays

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  • Emile Zola

  • Paul Cézanne, 1904:

    "Drawing and color are not separate at all; in so far as you paint, you draw. The more the color harmonizes, the more exact the drawing becomes. When the color achieves richness, the form attains its fullness also. The contrasts and relations of tones - there you have the secret of drawing and modeling".

  • Camille Pissarro

    Charlotte Amalie

  • View of Auvers sur Oise

    Paul Cezanne

  • House on a river

    Paul Cezanne

Early years:
Paul Cézanne was born to a wealthy family in Aix-en-Provence, France. His father was a successful banker whose riches assisted Cézanne throughout his life and his mother was a romantic who supported her son's career.

In 1852 Cézanne entered the Collège Bourbon where he met his good friends Émile Zola and Baptistin Baille. The three were famously close for a long period of time. After a classical education in Aix-en-Provence Paul Cézanne's father wished him to become a lawyer. However after attending law school for two years (whilst receiving art lessons) he could not bear the thought of continuing his education and left for Paris.

In Paris Paul Cézanne spent a large period of his time with Émile Zola, a French writer. He enrolled at the Académie Suisse, which is where he met his mentor, Camille Pissarro. After five months of trying to work as a painter in Paris, France, to no critical success, Cézanne returned to Aix-en-Provence at his father's request.

In his home town Paul Cézanne enrolled at the local art school and attempted to work as a banker but was also unsuccessful in this venture. Consequently in 1862 he returned to Paris to work as a painter. Disappointingly he failed the entrance exam to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts but continued to work between Paris and Aix-en-Provence and submitted many of his works to the Salon jury.

By this time he was good friends with Impressionist painters Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro and had met his future wife. However, he also had a long-term mistress - Hortense Fiquet - and in the Prussian war Cézanne and Fiquet absconded from the Paris and stayed in L'Estaque, France, until 1871.

Middle years:
In 1872 Paul Cézanne was living in Pontoise, France with Hortense Fiquet and his newborn son Paul (whom his father did not know about). Cézanne was still enthusiastically working on his paintings and was spending time outside with his idol, Camille Pissarro.

In Pontoise Paul Cézanne met Dr Paul Gachet, who was an admirer of his work and thus spent the years of 1872 to 1874 living at Gachet's home in Auvers-sur-Oise.

In 1873 Cézanne met Vincent van Gogh and in 1874 he exhibited at the Impressionist's first showcase. Cézanne's work was highly criticized along with the Impressionist's paintings but Cezanne's paintings were disliked by the other painters too. Cézanne's compositions from this period of working close to Camille Pissarro reveal that he was slightly influenced by the Impressionist's en plein air style of painting.

In 1877 Cézanne showcased 16 of his paintings to a great deal of scorn from critics and vowed never again to show his work at an Impressionist's exhibition. Although still influenced by Pissarro's Impressionist style Cézanne continued to work inside his studio and didn't believe in always painting from nature.

In the early 1880s Cezanne started to move even further away from the Impressionist's style of painting. He fell out with Emile Zola in 1886 because of his interpretation of Zola's novel, L'Oeuvre, and the two never saw each other again. In 1886 Cezanne married his mistress and inherited a large estate from his father, meaning he never had to worry about making money from his art.

Advanced years:
In November 1895 Paul Cézanne held his first solo exhibition in Paris and Ambroise Vollard bought every artwork. He then moved to Aix-en-Provence permanently.

In the early 1900s his work was shown all around Europe to wide critical acclaim but throughout his life Cézanne was shy and hostile towards other painters and he maintained this attitude. He died in October 1906 of pneumonia and is buried in the cemetery in Aix-en-Provence.

A Modern Olympia (1869-1870)

Artwork description & Analysis: This composition is Cézanne's adaptation of the theme of the demi-mondaine, or high-class prostitute suggested in Édouard Manet's scandalous Olympia of 1863. Unlike Manet's treatment, however, Cézanne portrays the prostitute as an awkwardly naked and recoiling figure, setting off the figures of her suitor (completely invisible in Manet's rendering of the subject) and an African chambermaid as transgressing "outsiders." The figures are depicted in both an expressive and abbreviated, indeed almost ungainly manner, with facial features only vaguely outlined, like masks, while their fleshy, corpulent bodies are visually articulated by dynamic, curving contours. The interior of the room is defined by a series of sweeping diagonals and bold colors depicting draperies, fruit, and an implied floral arrangement (Manet's version of the subject sported a resplendent bouquet in the center of the canvas). The suitor may be equated with Cézanne himself, possibly referring to his well-known anxiety with the opposite sex, which he struggled with throughout his life.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection

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