Friday, January 19, 2018

Paul Cézanne, Father of modern art. Born on this day in 1839


January 19, 1839. Paul Cézanne (19 January 1839 - 22 October 1906) was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th-century conception of artistic endeavor to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. In this image: Paul Cézanne (French, 1839 - 1906). Recto: The Chaîne de l'Etoile Mountains (La Chaîne de l'Etoile avec le Pilon du Roi), 1885 - 1886. Watercolor and graphite on wove paper; Verso: Unfinished Landscape, undated. Watercolor and graphite on wove paper, Sheet: 12 3/8 x 19 1/8 in. (31.4 x 48.6 cm). BF650. Photo © 2015 The Barnes Foundation.

What a mediocre way to describe the father of modern art and the most influential painter of the 20th century. Artist, painter and so much more. Both Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that Cézanne "is the father of us all."

The son of a banker, he was born in Aix-en-Provence and from the age of 10, was a friend of Zola whom he met in school. Although he first complied with his father's wishes to study law, Cézanne left Aix and moved to Paris in 1861. His early work was not inspiring but he continued to struggle to unite "observation of nature with the permanence of classical composition." His father disinherited him but later relented and left Cézanne with a large legacy which gave him a financial independence rare among painters of any era. 



The more he painted, the more he saw. The more he saw, the more manifold and unattainable truth became. "I must tell you," Cézanne wrote to his son six weeks before his death in the fall of 1906, "that as a painter I am becoming more clear-sighted before nature, but with me the realization of my sensations is always painful. I cannot attain the intensity that is unfolded before my senses. I do not have the magnificent richness of coloring that animates nature. Here on the bank of the river the motifs multiply ..."

Did any painter ever achieve more in such isolation? Cézanne did not have a one-man show until 1895, when he was 56. If the last years of his life made him something of a public figure in his native Aix-en-Provence and among the artists in Paris, he spent them in virtual seclu sion in his studio at Les Lauves, on the hillside above Aix. The workplace held the permanent characters of his still lifes: the plaster cupid, the blue ginger jar, the plain Provençal stoneware, the scroll-sawed kitchen table, the floral rug, the skulls, onions and peaches. 


Above all, there was Mont Ste.-Victoire, which would become, thanks to the painter's obsessive scrutiny, the most analyzed mountain in art. One sees how absolutely, unlike most other painters who work en série, Cézanne despised repetition. Each painting attacks the mountain and its distance as a fresh problem. The bulk runs from a mere vibration of watercolor on the horizon, its translucent, wriggling pro file echoing the pale green and lavender gestures of the foreground trees, to the vast solidarity of the Philadelphia version of Mont Ste.-Victoire, 1902-06. There, all is displacement. Instead of an object in an imaginary box, surrounded by transparency, every part of the surface is a continuum, a field of resistant form. Patches of gray, blue and lavender that jostle in the sky are as thoroughly articulated as those that constitute the flank of the mountain. Nothing is empty in late Cézanne — not even the bits of untouched canvas. This organized dialectic of shape and of color is the subject of Cézanne's famous remark: "Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one's sensations." To realize a sensation meant to give it a syntax — and as the hatched, angled planes in late Cézanne become less legible as illusion, so does the force of their pictorial language become more ordered. His goal was presence, not illusion, and he pursued it with an unremitting gravity. 





The fruit in the great still lifes of the period, like Apples and Oranges, 1895-1900, are so weighted with pictorial decision — their rosy surfaces filled, as it were, with thought — that they seem about twice as solid as real fruit could be. It mattered to Cézanne that he was a Provençal. Mont Ste.-Victoire was central to him, not only as a shape but as an emblem of his roots. 




The light in his watercolors (perhaps the most radiant exercises in that medium since Turner) is not just the transcendent energy, the "supernatural beauty" of abstraction; it is also the harsh, verifiable flicker of sun on Provençal hillsides. To his anguish and fulfillment, Cézanne was embedded in the real world, and he returns us to it, whenever his pictures are seen. —: Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New


In his later years, the years when he wrote his best letters, the French painter Paul Cézanne did not cease to study and worry. He was solitary and difficult and as devoted to his art as a mystic might be to salvation. “I think the best thing to do is to work hard,” he wrote. For him, painting was the most exacting process. “He was,” Alex Danchev writes, “a thinker-painter of formidable penetration.” In April 1904, for example, two years before he died, he wrote to a young painter: “Treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything brought into proper perspective so that each side of an object or a plane is directed towards a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon give breadth . . . Lines perpendicular to this horizon give depth. Now, we men experience nature more in terms of depth than surface, whence the need to introduce into our vibrations of light, represented by the reds and yellows, a sufficient quantity of blue tones, to give a sense of atmosphere.” Colin Tobin

Heilbrun Timeline of Art history here 
Wikipedia here 
Guardian review of a current exhibit here
Web page of quotes, etc here

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

Now Cézanne is a name I know and admire. The last quote intrigues me. Although I know of shape and form, I never think of an artist using geometry to put his work in perspective. Interesting. I love his still life paintings of fruit. Always have. I admit to liking those skulls, though, too.