Cezanne, the master of modern painting, was born on 19 January 1839 in Aix-en-Provence. The landscape of Provence and the countryside of Aix-en-Provence are the recurrent themes of his works. His Sainte-Victoire Mountain series are among the most well-known ones.
Cezanne in his atelier
Cezanne’s father, Louis Auguste Cezanne, who was from Saint-Zacharie in the department of Var, was a landlord in Aix-en-Provence. He also owned a hat shop on the thoroughfare Cours Mirabeau so the family was quite well-off. He founded the bank Banque Cézanne et Cabassol on 1 June 1848.
Cezanne attended Collège Bourbon (now Lycée Mignet) where he became friends with Emile Zola. He studied law at the Université d’Aix and took drawing lessons at the Ecole de Dessin. He resided in the family country house (La Bastide du Jas de Bouffan), where he made 36 oil paintings and 17 watercolours between 1859 and 1899. Encouraged by Emile Zola, he left for Paris in 1861. He stayed in Paris for a few months before returning to the family estate in autumn.
Tête de vieillard (1865-1868), huile sur toile, 51 x 48 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
In 1862, he gave up his career in law and moved to Paris. At the Académie de Charles Suisse, he met Camille Pissaro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley. He was rejected by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
Les Baigneuses (1874-1875), huile sur toile, 38.1 x 46 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
He presented 16 paintings in 1877 during the third impressionist exhibition where he received mixed critics. He left the impressionist group and returned to Provence in 1882, first settled in Estaque then in Gardanne (1885) near Aix-en-Provence. He began the Sainte-Victoire Mountain series.
In 1886, he broke off the friendship with Emile Zola after the release of Zola’s novel L’oeuvre. Inspired by Cezanne, the novel depicts the story of a cursed painter who is unable to finish his masterpiece. Cezanne’s first solo exhibition, which was organized by Ambroise Vollard in 1895, was not very well received by the public but earned him respect among the artists. His fame went international.
Baigneurs (1892-1894), huile sur toile, 50 x 60 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
In 1895, Cezanne rented a cottage in Carrières de Bibémus for keeping his materials and canvas. He stayed there most of the day, even night, until 1904.
He constructed an atelier on the outskirt of Aix between 1901 and 1902. He worked every morning in this Atélier des Lauves from 1902 until his death.
In October 1904, while he was painting in the massif of Sainte-Victoire, a sudden storm came. Cezanne had a blackout. He was carried back to his house on rue Boulegon in Aix-en-Provence by some carters. He died from pneumonia on 22 October. He was buried in the Saint-Pierre cemetery in Aix-en-Provence.
His friends, painters Pissarro, Renoir and Degas were the first who spotted his intentions and recognized his qualities. Cezanne made around 300 paintings.
Cezanne called the period from 1862 to 1870 the couillarde period. Historians named it the romantic period or the baroque phase. He was influenced by Italian or Spanish baroque painters such as Ribera, Zurbaran, the Caravagesques of the churches in Aix, the Granet Museum, Eugène Delacroix, Courbet and Manet. Cezanne used generally thick paste, dark palette and background: Pains et œufs (1866), Portrait de Louis-Auguste Cézanne (1866), Tête de vieillard (1866), Antony Vallabrègue (1866), La Madeleine (1868-1869), Achille Emperaire (1868-1869), Une Moderne Olympia (1869-1870), Nature-morte à la bouilloire (1869), Nature-morte à la pendule noire.
A period under the influence of Pissaro. He lived in Auvers-sur-Oise between 1872-1873, near Pissaro. He also visited Guillaumin and Doctor Gachet. The tone of his works was still rough but was subtler than those produced in the romantic period: La Maison du pendu (1873), La Route du village à Auvers (1872-73), La maison du docteur Gachet (1873).
La Maison du pendu, Auvers-sur-Oise (1873), huile sur toile, 55.5 x 66.3 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
The variation of colours was applied to express volumes. Cezanne wanted to achieve this with his own technique. He combined the problems of lines and contours. Everything must be expressed in one painting solely by the variation of colours: Le Pont à Maincy (1879), L’Estaque, Les autoportraits ou les natures-mortes du Musée d’Orsay, du Musée de l’Ermitage ou de Philadelphie, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue de Bellevue (Metropolitan Museum), La Plaine au pied de la montagne Sainte-Victoire et Les Bords de la Marne (Musée Pouchkine).
La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue de Bellevue (1882-1885), huile sur toile, 65.5 x 81.7 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
For Cezanne, still life is a model just like a human body or a mountain, but that allows him particularly to research on space, geometry, and the connection between colours and forms. “When the colour is in power, the form is in its fullness,” he said.
Ill appreciated in his times, his paintings subsequently became hallmarks of his genius.
Nature-morte aux trois crânes (1900), huile sur toile, 34 x 60 cm, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit