Paul Cézanne was born on 19th January 1839 in Aix en Provence in the south of France. He is in my opinion one of the most influential artists of the past hundred and fifty years. He was a contemporary of the Impressionists but his work is quite unlike Impressionism, it is often labelled Post-Impressionism. He changed they way artists looked at their work, developing the Impressionists obsession with capturing the fleeting moment and extending it to an attempt to describe the essence of a scene. He disregarded the Impressionistic fascination with light and focused on form and solidity. His paintings have a depth and gravity that lend them a huge feeling of realism despite their abstract elements. This change of perception (between painting what is seen, and painting what is known to be really there) and also his famous remark: “Treat nature as a cylinder, sphere or cone.”, were perhaps this single most important factors in the development of Cubism by Picasso and Braque and as a consequence practically every art movement to follow.
Cézanne’s still life paintings demonstrate effectively the difference between his attitude towards painting, and most artists before him. He represented different objects in the scene from different viewpoints. So a table might be viewed from the side, but a bowl from the top. Still life with Apples and Oranges, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. This was done in the interest of composition and also as a means of accurately describing the objects. This idea was picked up upon by Picasso and Braque and stretched to its limits in their cubist paintings. Violin and Jug, Georges Braque, Basle Kunstmuseum. Braque had been a Fauve before he changed direction, Cézanne’s influence can also be clearly seen in Fauvism too.
Fauve means wild beast in French, and this name sprang from the shock created when the group first exhibited. Fauvism does not adhere to the usual rules of ‘natural’ colouring, choosing instead to use colour as a means to express shape. Cézanne used colour in a similar yet less extreme way, his portraits and still life compositions use traditional colours but to great effect in terms of describing the mass and structure of the subjects. His landscapes are in my opinion the best example of his somewhat unorthodox method of colouring, which was picked up by the Fauves. His earlier landscapes were pretty conventional, in particular his watercolours but his later less figurative work is remarkable. He used colour to describe form. This was a revolutionary idea at the time and one which Fauvism took to whole new levels. He would place dark and light colours beside each other in order to depict mass, perspective and texture. It works brilliantly in his landscapes, giving them an appropriate sense of bulk. Cézanne’s subversion of natural colouring might not have been as dramatic as the Fauves, but people noticed that something was awry in his paintings and his work was mostly ingnored until just before his death. His portraits were because of their emphasis of form, a little lifeless. Despite the remarkable representation of space and the ‘shape’ of the people, Card Players, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, their faces perhaps lack the human sparkle which is expected in portraits. One of his favourite subjects was Mont St Victoire, which he painted over eighty times. The change in style is perhaps most perceptible in this serious. Towards the end of his career his style became more abstract, incorporating wide brush strokes, blocks of dark and light, and only the most dominant of natures colours. While it approached abstraction it never reached it, the subject always being clearly discernable.
Cézanne is my favourite artist. I think perhaps he said it best when he arrogantly stated ”I have blazed a trail; others will follow”. It was not unfounded arrogance. His paintings capture the essence of their subjects magnificently, and they did indeed pave the way for future artists. This is a brief and inadequate summary of his work, featuring many unmarked opinions and biased descriptions. Basically, if you were even slightly interested in what was said above, I urge you to find some decent prints of his work, or even better to see some of it in the flesh (so to speak).