Paul Cézanne: The Father of Modern Art

Paul Cézanne: The Father of Modern Art

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If you ask any art historian about who is the father of modern art, they will probably tell you that it is Paul Cézanne, a French Post-Impressionist painter who revolutionized the art world with his innovative use of color, composition, and perspective.

Cézanne was born in 1839 in Aix-en-Provence, a town in the south of France. He was a childhood friend of the famous writer Émile Zola, who encouraged him to pursue his artistic career. In 1861, he moved to Paris, where he encountered the works of the leading artists of his time, such as Delacroix, Courbet, and Pissarro. He was especially influenced by the Impressionists, who painted the effects of light and color on the natural world.

However, Cézanne soon developed his style of painting, which combined the Impressionist interest in light and color with a more structured and geometric approach to form and space.

Cézanne’s Artistic Style and Techniques

Cézanne was not interested in painting realistic representations of the world. Instead, he wanted to express his vision and emotions through his paintings. He once said, “I want to make of Impressionism something solid and lasting like the art in the museums.” To achieve this, he developed his style of painting, which involved breaking down the objects and scenes he painted into simple shapes and colors.

Constructive Stroke

Employing a method called constructive stroke, he applied tiny, parallel brushstrokes of distinct colors that blended when seen by the viewer. Additionally, he utilized multiple perspectives, altering the scene’s viewpoint to craft a more intricate and lively composition.

Multiple Perspective

He often painted the same subject from different angles and in different seasons, such as Mont Sainte-Victoire, a mountain near his hometown that he painted more than 60 times. By doing this, he showed how the perception of reality can change depending on the position and mood of the observer.

Cézanne’s Major Themes and Works

Cézanne is known for his innovative use of color, form, and perspective to create realistic and expressive representations of nature and human figures. He painted main categories of subjects: landscapes, still lifes, and portraits or figures.

Landscapes

Mont Sainte-Victoire 1882–1885 (Image: Wikimedia)
Mont Sainte-Victoire 1882–1885 (Image: Wikimedia)

In his landscapes, portraying the scenery of his native region of Provence, especially the Mont Sainte-Victoire, painted many times from different angles and seasons, he utilized geometric shapes and contrasting colors. This technique was aimed at creating a sense of depth and structure, breaking away from the traditional rules of perspective. Expressing his vision and feelings for the nature surrounding him, he aimed to achieve harmony between the human eye and the natural world.

Still Lifes

Still Life with Bread and Eggs (Image: Wikimedia)
Still Life with Bread and Eggs (Image: Wikimedia)

His still lifes showed everyday objects such as fruits, flowers, and pottery, arranged in harmonious and balanced compositions. He paid attention to the details and textures of the objects, as well as the light and shadows that created a sense of depth and volume.

Portraits

Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 1899 (Image: Wikimedia)
Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 1899 (Image: Wikimedia)

In his portraits, Cézanne explored the human condition and the complexity of the self. He painted his subjects with honesty and dignity, without idealizing or flattering them. He used a variety of techniques, such as loose brushstrokes, patches of color, and multiple viewpoints, to create a sense of movement and vitality. He challenged the conventions of portraiture, often leaving parts of the canvas unfinished or distorted. He sought to capture the essence and character of his sitters, rather than their superficial appearance.

Famous Works

Paul Cézanne's "The Card Players"
Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players (Image: Wikimedia)

Some of his most famous works include The Card Players, a series of five paintings that show peasants playing cards in a tavern; The Basket of Apples, a still life that shows a basket of apples and other objects on a table; Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress, a portrait of his wife Hortense wearing a red dress; and The Large Bathers, a large painting that shows a group of nude women bathing in a river, inspired by classical and Renaissance art. He painted the curves and contours of the human body with a sense of grace and vitality, creating a contrast between the flesh and the landscape.

Read also: The Most Famous and Expensive Paintings in the World 

Cézanne’s Legacy and Influence

Cézanne died in 1906 in Aix, after catching a cold while painting outdoors. He was not very famous or appreciated during his lifetime, but he was recognized as a pioneer of modern art by younger artists who admired his innovative and expressive style. He influenced the development of various artistic movements, such as Cubism, Fauvism, and Expressionism.

Cubism

Cubism, pioneered by Picasso and Braque, was inspired by Cézanne’s geometric approach to form and space, and his use of multiple perspectives.

Fauvism

Fauvism, led by Matisse and Derain, was inspired by Cézanne’s bold and vibrant use of color, and his emphasis on emotion and sensation.

Expressionism

Expressionism, represented by Kandinsky and Munch, was inspired by Cézanne’s personal and subjective vision of reality, and his use of distortion and exaggeration. Cézanne is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential painters of all time. He is celebrated for his originality, creativity, and mastery of painting. He is also admired for his dedication, passion, and perseverance in pursuing his artistic vision.

Read also: How Abstract Expressionism Changed the View of Art

Cézanne’s Relationships with Fellow Artists

Cézanne’s connections with artists of his time were intricate, marked by admiration, influence, and misunderstandings.

Friendship with Émile Zola

Cézanne and Zola, childhood friends united by their love for art and literature, journeyed to Paris together, supporting each other’s careers. However, divergent views on art and society strained their bond. Zola’s ascent as a celebrated realist writer contrasted sharply with Cézanne’s struggles as an artist pursuing his unique vision. Their friendship crumbled when Zola published L’Œuvre in 1886, depicting a failed painter’s tragic end, a portrayal Cézanne felt deeply insulted by, viewing it as a mocking reflection of himself and his artistry.

Collaboration and Influence on Picasso

Self-Portrait, 1907 (Image: Wikiart)
Self-Portrait, 1907 (Image: Wikiart)

Despite never meeting, Cézanne profoundly impacted Picasso’s artistic trajectory. Seeing Cézanne’s works for the first time in a 1907 Paris retrospective, Picasso was captivated by the innovative use of geometric shapes and varied perspectives, revolutionizing his concept of representing reality. Embracing Cézanne’s influence, Picasso, alongside Georges Braque, pioneered Cubism, breaking down objects into abstract forms. Picasso held Cézanne in high esteem, even echoing, “Cézanne’s influence gradually flooded everything,” establishing him as a primary influence and inspiration.

Impact on Modern Artists

Cézanne’s artistic legacy extended beyond his era, shaping various movements like Fauvism, Expressionism, Abstract Art, and Minimalism. Artists such as Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Edvard Munch, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Sean Scully drew inspiration from his works. Furthermore, contemporary artists like Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Luc Tuymans, and Lubaina Himid revisited and reinterpreted Cézanne’s artistry, affirming its perpetual capacity to challenge and inspire artists seeking to articulate their unique realities.

Admiring Cezanne’s revolutionary art, Hemingway even learned to paint with words, aiming for simplicity and precision. Applying Cezanne’s techniques, he added depth and emotion to his prose, especially in short stories, using repetition and contrast for rhythm.

With vivid details and active verbs, he created powerful images, subtly suggesting meaning through point of view and omission. Hemingway wrote with honesty and intensity, influenced by Cezanne’s vision of nature and artistic integrity, capturing the essence of his experiences in a balanced and clear style.

Critique and Reception of Cézanne’s Work

Cézanne’s artistic endeavors were met with a mixture of rejection and acclaim, oscillating between disdain and recognition.

Initial Criticism by Art Critics

Cézanne’s unconventional style clashed with the traditional art establishment, leading to repeated rejection by the prestigious Salon and distancing from the Impressionists. Critics, deeming his works unfinished and incomprehensible, disparaged him, with one likening him to a madman in delirium. Others mocked his representations of objects, criticizing their departure from realistic portrayals.

Subsequent Acknowledgment

Despite initial rebuffs, Cézanne found champions among his peers. Figures like Camille Pissarro and Paul Gauguin admired his innovative techniques and use of color. Younger artists like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Signac, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec sought inspiration from his paintings. Certain art dealers and collectors, including Ambroise Vollard and Victor Chocquet, supported and exhibited his works. Gradually, some art critics recognized his brilliance, with Gustave Geffroy praising Cézanne as one of the greatest and most misunderstood artists of the era.

In conclusion, Paul Cézanne stands as the father of modern art, his innovative techniques and unique vision revolutionized the artistic landscape. His use of color, perspective, and form broke traditional boundaries, leaving an indelible mark on art history. Despite initial criticism, his influence has endured, shaping numerous artistic movements and inspiring generations of artists.

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