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French Post-Impressionist Painter Paul Cezanne

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Paul Cezanne a French Post-Impressionist painter was born in Aix-en-Provence, France on January 19, 1839. It was considered that his artwork formed a bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and the dominant style started in the early 20th century – Cubism.

Not a Poor Artist 

Many of the great artists were poor, lived in poverty and made very little from their artwork. Paul Cezanne was the exception. His father was the co-founder of a banking firm and the artist received a large inheritance from his father when he came of age. His father was insistent that Cezanne attend law school at the University of Aix. At this time the artist also took drawing lessons. Finding art more to his heart he chose to pursue the arts and left Aix for Paris in 1861. His father gave him an inheritance of 400,000 Francs.

Close Friends with Emile Zola 

He then became friend with Baptistin Baille . Also he made friendship with the famous Emile Zola, who later became a famous author. They had such a close relationship that they were called “the three inseparables”. This friendship with Zola lasted for many years. In 1888 Zola chose to use Cezanne as the basis for the unsuccessful and tragic fictitious artist Claude Lantier, in his novel “L’OEuvre”. This broke up their friendship since Cezanne considered this a breach of decorum.

A Disciple of Camille Pissarro and the Inventor of Modern Expressionism

Cezanne became a disciple of Camille Pissaro when he lived in Paris. Pissaro was often referred to as the “dean of the Impressionist painters”. At first, Cezanne considered Pissaro to be like a father to him but later on their relationship changed and they became more like equals working together.

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The Murder

Cezanne’s work was characterized by dark colors and much use of black from 1861 to 1870. This period of his life is referred to as the Dark Period and at this time he painted a series of paintings with a palette knife. His palette knife phase is considered to be the invention of Modern Expressionism. In his Dark Period, the artist painted erotic and violent subjects like “Women Dressing” in 1867, “The Rape” in 1867 and “The Murder” 1867-68.

Family Affairs 

Once under the influence of Pissarro from 1870 to 1878, Cezanne left behind dark colors and his canvases became brighter. He was now in his Impressionist Period. At this time in his life, his mistress Marie-Hortense Fiquet gave birth to his firstborn, a son. Since the boy was born out of wedlock the artist didn’t inform his father out of fear of losing his inheritance. Six years later his father found out but even though there was much anger, he gave the artist and his family 400 Francs.

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Cezanne became more independent in his artwork from 1878 to 1890 and left behind Impressionist influences. This is known as his Mature Period. In the early 1890s, Cezanne resided in Provence where his mistress’  brother had a house close to Mount St. Victoire at Estaque. At this time Cezanne painted a series of paintings of Mount St. Victoire and of Gardanne. Cezanne finally married Marie-Hortense. In 1859 when his father died he left him his estate.

Exploration Using “Geometric Simplification” 

Cezanne wished to represent real life in much simpler forms. He began exploring with “geometric simplification” such as making a tree trunk as a cylinder, an apple as a sphere and so on. The artist took at look optical phenomena in order to provide the viewer with an aesthetic experience of depth. His exploration of both geometric simplification and optical phenomena began to inspire other painters of the 20th century. Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse remarked that Cezanne “is the father of us all”.

Well Known Painter and Unfortunate Death

From 1890 began Cezanne’s Final Period. At this time he withdrew into his painting and would spend long periods of time as a recluse. At this time some of his artwork inspired the Cubist style. His paintings became well known and a new generation of painters adored him. Unfortunately, it was also a period when his relationships with others became strained and he became a diabetic.

Finally, the artist’s dedication to his work cost him his life. Working in the field Cezanne got caught in a storm however he continued to work for another two hours before going home. On the way back home he collapsed and was helped home by a passing driver. Cezanne decided to continue working the next day but fainted in the middle. The model working with him called for help and the artist was put to bed and never got up again. Working in the storm he had caught pneumonia and he died. Cezanne was buried in the old cemetery in his hometown of Aix-en-Provence.

Second Most Expensive Work of Art

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As of 2015 an iconic artwork by Cezanne, “The Card Players”, is the second most expensive artwork ever sold. It was sold in 2011 for over $250 million. The painting was painted in the early 1890s and depicts Provencal peasants playing cards and smoking pipes. This artwork is noted for its lack of drama, narrative and conventional characterization. The models for the painting were local workers, some of them working for the Cezanne family estate.

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One of the paintings by Cezanne that fascinates me is “Pyramid of Skulls” painted in 1901. This is the first time the artist placed his objects so close to the viewer. This artwork has inspired many artists such as Picasso and Andy Warhol.




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