The Story of French Impressionism, Part VIII: Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) is sometimes categorized as a “Post-Impressionist” painter by latter-day more sophisticated scholars of art history. In the same way that Manet is sometimes viewed as a bridge between “realism” and “modernism,” Cézanne is sometimes viewed as abridge between late Impressionism and other modernist movements, like Cubism. Both Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that Cézanne “is the father of us all” and the famous art historian E.H. Gombrich compared the influence of Cézanne to a “landslide” for the massive shift he inspired in art.

Photograph of Paul CézannePaul Cézanne photographed around 1861

Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence to a wealthy father who founded a successful banking enterprise. This wealth afforded Cézanne financial security all his life, as well as a sizable inheritance. As a young man, he studied alongside fellow student, Émile Zola. At his behest, Cézanne went to Paris to become an artist, much to his father’s chagrin, who had wanted him to pursue a career in law. In Paris, he met Camille Pissaro, a significant influence on his work. During this time in Paris, Cézanne suffered from deep bouts of depression, and he frequently traveled between Paris and his family home in Aix-en-Provence. During the Franco-Prussian War, he moved from Paris to Provence, and eventually to the coast. He brought with him his mistress and soon-to-be-wife, Marie-Hortense Fiquet.

The Hanged Man’s House (1873)

Jas de Bouffan (1876)

Image result for chateau de medan
The Chateau de Medan (1880)

Houses in Provence: The Riaux Valley near L’Estaque (1883)

L’Estaque (1883–1885) -while similar to the Impressionist’s style, his geometric and architectural language was entirely unique. Other modernist artists were entranced by his style, including modernist writers like Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others. Through their clique, Alfred C. Barnes, the pharmaceutical millionaire, found a taste for Cézanne and Monet. Today, the Barnes Foundation is one of the finest collections of private art in the United States (located in Philadelphia).

Jas de Bouffan (1885–1887)

He tried to get his works on display at the Salon, and twice featured his works at the Impressionist’s exhibits. His works were always a bit darker and more analytical than other more traditional Impressionists, like Monet. Cézanne was shy and moody, he had a difficult personality that seemingly only Pissaro had the patience for, but he shared the Impressionist’s revolutionary spirit and he admired Pissaro, Monet, and Renoir. Cézanne’s works are characterized by their unique multiplicity of perspectivism. Sadly, substantial portions of his work were discredited and mocked during his lifetime. As a result, he was reclusive and anti-social, even as his works gained admiration shortly before his death.

Madame Cézanne (1888-1890)

Harlequin (1888-1900) – a painting of one of the famous Italian comedy characters, a 16th and 17th century stock character from Italian Commedia dell’arte.


The Card Players (1892-1895) -a post-impressionist series of card players by Cézanne in his late period in the 1890s. Farmhands were the models for the card players, and it has been described as ‘human still life.’ Below are a few more of paintings from his card players series:


The Card Players (1892-1893)


The Card Players (1890-1892)


The Card Players (1890-1892)


Cézanne painted a wide variety of still life paintings for which he became famous. Here is another below:

Paul Cézanne, French - The Large Bathers - Google Art Project.jpg
Cézanne also conducted a series on The Bathers or The Large Bathers (1895-1905). The series is considered one of his finest masterpieces, and it remained unfinished at the time of his death. The theme of the “bather” has a long and stories history in great works of pastoral and Arcadian art scenes. The paintings contains allusions to Titian and Raphael. The abstract nude bodies curve inward while bathing in a river with three geometrically balanced triangles (one on the left, one on the right, and one containing the other two). Recall, that the triangle was the key to perspective in Renaissance artworks. Their forms are chaotic. None of the bodies have discernible faces. Many of their bodies echo earlier classical works, and many do not face the audience including some devoid of color simply showing the blank canvas in patches. What is Cézanne trying to do with this spontaneous scene? He plays with our Renaissance understandings of depth. Off in the distance and across the river is a mysterious man, caught between a pastoral scene with a church in the background, while in the foreground we see the present-day avant-garde scene of bathing. lazy clouds hang overhead, while off in the distance across the river Cézanne labored on this painting for seven years until his death. This painting is the foreshadow for the cubist and modernist paintings (a la Picasso).

Pyramid of Skulls (1901)

Still Life with a Skull (1895-1900) – the skull studies later served as inspiration for other modernist artists like Picasso. They were painted close to Cézanne’s death in his personal studio.


Mont Sainte-Victoire (1887)

1904, Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire.jpgMont Sainte-Victoire – Cézanne conducted a decades long study of the mountain beginning in the 1870s and ending in the early 20th century around the time of his death.

As an old man, Cézanne was misanthropic and remained cloistered in his studio, losing touch even with his wife and young son. He suffered from diabetes for years. One day, while working out in the field he collapsed and never fully recovered. He died of pneumonia in 1906.

Self-Portrait (1879-1882)

Image result for cezanne self portrait with hatSelf-Portrait in a Soft Hat (1894)

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