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 a bridge 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)

Thoughts on the Book of Proverbs

In the Book of Proverbs, we encounter a seemingly contradictory theology that stands in stark contrast to our exegesis of the Book of Job.

The Book of Proverbs, predicated on the wisdom literature of the Egyptians, is designed as a letter from an elder Hebrew man to a much younger and inexperienced son. It is meant to serve as a guide for those seeking wisdom. His message is that the way to attain wisdom is through prostration to the divine. For example, Proverbs famously states that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7). According to Proverbs, rewards come to those who seek wisdom through fear of the Lord and also “humility comes before honor” (15:38).

Right conduct, arete to the Greeks, according to the Israelites is best performed in prostration to the Lord. One must be humble, rather than proud, which is also the opposite of the Greek notion of virtue.

As is common for theology, wisdom is a gift to be distributed from the divine. However, there are certain actions humans can apparently take to incur the favor of God that will bring wisdom. Wisdom appears in the form of a divine woman, one to be tamed and kept close, and most importantly pursued. It is the path to gaining personal rewards. Wisdom is also acknowledged for her role in the act of creation discussed in the book of Genesis.

In addition to wisdom, humans can also acquire things like health, wealth, and good things by worshipping the Lord. This claim stands in stark contrast to the message given to Job. Despite Job’s firm uprightness, the Lord can still bring him to the brink of destruction and allow the Adversary torture him, yet Job must remain faithful and obedient. Job must take consolation in the notion that he lacks knowledge of the divine, which appears to be chaos to human beings undergoing suffering. However in Proverbs, the author, dubiously claimed to be King Solomon, states that people who pursue wisdom by being obedient to the Lord, will be given rewards. According to Proverbs, the Lord will not leave his loyal followers in the torturous hands of the Adversary. Nothing is mentioned of the divine terror that Job experienced at the hands of the Adversary in Proverbs.

The author is concerned with things social and political, such as speech and law. Unlike Job, who does not remain silent during his time of great duress, Proverbs instructs the young hold their tongues. Young men must be made to love reproof in order to pursue wisdom and excellence, for punishment is is necessary for the sake of the city. Proverbs makes an early attempt, later taken up by Augustine and Aquinas, to harmonize the theological and the political so that the former does not continue to pose a threat to the latter.

The final three books of Proverbs are said to be written by varying prophets and kings, yet they continue the same threads of theological inquiry.

For this reading I used the King James Version.