January 19 marks the birthday of Paul Cezanne in 1839.
By the time of his death in 1906, he was recognized, especially by younger artists, as the genius who began his career under the tutelage of impressionist Camille Pissarro, and then went on to become the “architect” who reduced the subjects of his paintings to cylinders, spheres and cones before then building upon their geometry, careful stroke by careful, laborious stroke. This “deconstruction” of subjects into their basic forms laid the basis for “cubism,” pioneered by Picasso and others, which then spawned a multitude of art movements. Cezanne was responsible for the revolutionary ideas about the essence and perception of art that inspired all that soon followed in modern art. Picasso declared Cezanne “the father of us all,” and “my one and only master!
It would sometimes take hours for Cezanne to commit a single brushstroke to his work in progress, because he wanted each stroke to contain “the air, the light, the object, the composition, the character, the outline and the style” of the subject he was painting. He believed in “seeing and sensing” subjects he was painting rather than “thinking” about them. He sought to unify sight with touch, allowing no cognitive distraction to block the path between what his eyes were perceiving and his fingers were recording. His mission was to capture a moment in time in his art -- a moment that was about to cease to exist and never return again.
Art is a personal apperception, which I embody in sensations and which I ask the understanding to organize into a painting.”
Unlike most other important figures in modern art who were forced to live most of their lives one step ahead of abject poverty and starvation, Cézanne was fathered by the co-founder of a banking firm and enjoyed a life of financial security, including a large inheritance. Rather than poverty, it would be poor health that would be the bane of his existence, beginning with the onset of diabetes at the age of 51. His father’s death and his chronic ill health are thought to have been what so negatively impacted and wrecked the all too briefly idyllic period in his life that came with the bourgeoning respect he was finally receiving for his art and his ideas. His long friendship with author Emile Zola soured and ended and he wrote his wife out of his will, leaving everything to his son. In the autumn of 1906, he was caught in an unexpected rainstorm in an open field where he was painting. For two hours he continued to work despite the deluge. Walking home, he collapsed and was rescued by a passing driver. The next day, he tried to work, but fainted and was put into bed. He died a few days later from pneumonia. He was 67.
Cezanne, though well-known as an “important” painter, is not the creator of any single “fan favorite” paintings, in the manner of art history’s other great movers and shakers. His importance came as being the architect who constructed the bridge from impressionism to modern art abstracts by inventing (though he was unaware of it at the time) “cubism.” He sought to see the “solid” forms in impressionism that could be built upon to create more accurate perceptions of moments of ever-elapsing and lost forever time. He was important as the visionary capable of mapping modern art’s course out of impressionism and onward to diverse new schools of artistic perception and expression.
- Can you name a Paul Cezanne painting without consulting Wikipedia?
- When you are enjoying a particular work of art, do you become interested in the artists who influenced the creation of that art, or do you leave that to the academics?
- Do you enjoy reading about or hearing lectures about great artist’s theories of the essence of art and how they perceive their missions as artists creating beautiful and inspiring moments for people through creating and displaying their art? Or do you prefer just “looking” and having your own thoughts, free of the influence of having heard the artist’s ideas and theories?