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Paul CÚzanne and his paintings

Paul CÚzanne Photo
Paul Cezanne, the French artist who influenced Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse and paved the way for modern art, created more than 900 oil paintings and 400 watercolors in a career that spanned more than 40 years..

Considered a Post-Impressionist, Cezanne bridged the gap between Impressionism and Cubism at the turn of the 20th century. His development of form with color - a sculptural, almost architectural application - and his analytical approach influenced Cubists, Fauvists and avant-garde artists.

Cezanne was known for his still lifes, portraits and landscapes, and is considered the greatest master of still life. The Basket of Apples (1895) is one of his major works in the genre. He is also celebrated for his studies of bathers, the most famous of which is The Large Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses), which is considered one of the art world's greatest masterpieces. This painting is credited with bridging the gap between Post-Impressionism and the modern art movements of the 20th century.

Dark Period

In his early paintings in Paris in the 1860s, a time known as his dark period, Cezanne used dramatic color contrasts and created dark, brooding images using evocative textures created by thick layers of paint, sometimes applied roughly with a palette knife. One of his most important works during this period is The Murder (1967-1868) in which a man stabs a woman who is held down by a female accomplice.

Impressionist Period

Under the influence of Impressionist Pissarro, who was his mentor and later his equal, Cezanne turned to landscapes. In his Impressionist period (1870-1878) in Provence and Paris, he continued to layer his colors, but his images became lighter, both in tone and mood.

L'Estaque, Melting Snow which was painted in a single session, is among Cezanne's best-known landscapes.

Cezanne's experimental works were largely met with rejection and ridicule, even while he received encouragement from Pissarro and other Impressionists. It would take some time for his unique artistry to be recognized and celebrated. In fact, after his third exhibition with the Impressionists, he did not exhibit again for 20 years.

His paintings were shown in the 1863 Salon des Refuses, which displayed works that were not accepted by the jury of the official Paris Salon. The Salon rejected Cezanne each year from 1864 to 1869 and, finally, accepted his work for the first and only time in 1882.

Mature Period

In his mature period (1878-1890), Cezanne began to withdraw from the Impressionists and painted in increased isolation at his home in southern France. The elements in his paintings in this period were reminiscent of sculpture and architecture, with an analytical attention to detail that showed distinct angles. This evolution of Cezanne's style made him the mentor of future Cubists.

Many of his landscapes show Aix-en-Provence, his home town, and L'Estaque, a small fishing village near Marseille. In these paintings, layers of color create dimension through horizontal planes that pull the viewer's eye into the image. Two paintings that show this technique are The Gulf of Marseille Seen from L'Estaque (1885) and Mont Sainte-Victoire (1885-1887).

A prelude to the Cubism of artists like Picasso and Georges Braque is present in "Gardanne," a work from 1886 in which Cezanne's landscape uses intensely layered geometric patterns, most notably in the houses that appear in a three-dimensional view on a hill.

The Boy in the Red Vest (1888-1890) is considered one of Cezanne's finest portraits. It was stolen in Zurich, but in 2012 was recovered from Serbia.

Final Period

Early in his final period (1890-1905), Cezanne became increasingly reclusive, spending long periods focusing on his paintings. His popularity grew during this time, in parallel with his reclusivity, and he began to emerge from isolation. Cezanne's popularity began to climb dramatically after dealer Ambroise Vollard, encouraged by Pissarro, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, held Cezanne's first solo exhibition at Vollard's gallery in Paris in 1895. This exhibition, which ultimately boosted Vollard's career as well as Cezanne's, sparked discussion and promotion of Cezanne's work by artists and other influential people who were intrigued by the unique elements that set him apart.

His many still lifes were painted in his studio during this period, using simple props, and often featured apples. A few of these paintings are Still Life with Peppermint Bottle (1890) now located at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Still Life with Basket of Apples (1890-1894) housed at the Art Institute of Chicago; and Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier (1893-1895) which is said to have become the most expensive still life ever auctioned when it sold for $60.5 million at Southeby's in New York in 1999.

Several still life paintings later in his final period show Cezanne's reflections on death through the use of skulls. In Pyramid of Skulls (1901), he places the pile of skulls is uncharacteristically close to the viewer. This painting has inspired many artists, including Picasso and Andy Warhol. The skulls remain in his studio in Aix, where he is known as the Master of Aix.

He often painted familiar objects, some of which are also on display at his studio. His models were also the product of convenience: His wife, his son and people he saw regularly. Hortense Fiquet, who Cezanne married in 1886, appeared in many of his paintings. The most famous painting of Fiquet is Madame Cezanne with Unbound Hair (1890-92).

Brilliance in Color

In his still lifes and his landscapes, Cezanne forgoes classical perspective. Instead of light and shadow, he uses subtle gradiations of color, a marked difference from his early application of bold swaths of color. In "Dish of Apples" (1876-1877) and similar still lifes, Cezanne paints each item as independent from the others.

A series of five paintings of peasants playing cards in Provencal, "The Card Players" is considered one of Cezanne's best figure compositions. He began the series in 1890, using color gradiations to create form and bring a three-dimensional quality to the images.

One of the images in The Card Players series in 2011 fetched more than $250 million to become the highest price ever paid for a work of art. The painting went to the nation of Qatar; the other paintings in the series are all in collections in major museums: Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Musee d'Orsay, the Courtauld, and the Barnes Foundation.

Paul CÚzanne was my one and only master.”       - Pablo Picasso

Cezanne is not only one of the most celebrated artists of all time, he is also one of the most influential and the most prolific. He left a powerful legacy. Imagine an art world in which Cezanne did not influence masters such as Matisse and Picasso. CÚzanne is almost unique among nineteenth century painters in catalyzing both the most exacting formal analysis and psycho-analytical, existentialist, and phenomenological investigations, and it was CÚzanne who taught artists to liberate form from color, which created a new and subjective reality of the pictures, and art forms which they depicted on the canvas.

Masterpieces of Paul Cezanne

  • The Large Bathers
  • Mont Sainte-Victoire
  • The Card Players
  • Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bellevue
  • Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier
  • Boy in a Red Vest
  • Still Life with Apples and Oranges
  • Kitchen Table
  • Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1885
  • A Modern Olympia
  • Still Life with Basket of Apples
  • Portrait of Chocquet
  • Portrait of Gustave Geffroy
  • The Abduction
  • Three Bather
  • The Bather
  • Le Chateau Noir
  • Still Life with Peppermint Bottle
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