In this week’s know who you’re Googling, we’re making sense of the work of the “Father of Modern Art”, Paul Cézanne.
What we know him for:
To pretty much everybody, Paul Cézanne painted a thousand different, but similar versions of the Mont Sainte-Victorie. The above was his 1902 attempt, it being a marvellous example of his later work. But before we carry on, below is a real-life image of the Mont Sainte-Victorie, so we can see through Cézanne’s mind. I’ll pause before we continue the tour, so you can scroll up and down for a bit.
The first blow that knocked me silly was his amazing use of colour. But it wasn’t always the case. The Cezanne we know today was a result of years of artistic struggle, and early on, during his imaginatively named “dark period”, Cézanne was comparatively devoid of colour:
Fundamentally, the post that Cézanne secured his easel to was post-impressionism, continuing on from the work of the established impressionist masters of Manet, Monet, Turner, et al. But our Paul split from the whole program. Whereas the impressionist mantra is painting as the eye sees it, Cézanne rejected this in favour of his own brand of (analytical) sensory immersion. Twisting the space, playing with depths and editing the geometric qualities of objects in the space as he saw fit, he started to speak in vibrant colour. First in the Boy in the Red Vest and then finding his marvellous feet, combining all his theories in Still Life with Plaster Cupid:
Those reading with sharp peepers have no doubt noticed that tucked into Cézanne’s lurid blankets of colour lay his strong edges, and that is very much all him. Continuing on with his (analytic) experimentation of shape and form, he eventually gave birth to Cubism. What followed was a mixing of the two disciplines, culminating in his corking Chateau below:
Look at the Chateau! Look at it! Sat there among the trees, brown like the edges of toast, among the sea of peanut butter of green nature around it. Amazing. Also notable is Cézanne’s amazing detail of colour in the tree trunks in the foreground. Painted in the last years of his life, Chateau Noir speaks of a master in full control of his art.
But what of the man himself?
Yeah. Not so much. Born into a rich family, and studied as (are you sitting down) a lawyer! No disparagement on those marvellous upstanding people of the law community, but there’s still hope. Beyond that, Cézanne had a child out of wedlock, eventually married his mistress and became a generally disagreeable recluse – a man of extreme personal discipline and impossible standards. He purportedly “took one-hundred sessions for a still life and one-hundred and fifty for a portrait” and would, apparently, take hours to lay down a single stroke because it had to capture “the air, the light, the object, the composition, the character, the outline and the style” – an approach which cost him everything beyond his art. But it probably suited Cézanne, who died after contracting pneumonia from painting in a field too long.
Owing to his middle finger to the establishment, he inspired all sorts of genius who inspired genius: Georges Braque, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, who pictured Paul Cézanne as “…the father of us all”.
Have any suggestions on who we should tackle next week? Leave in it the comment section below.