Thursday, January 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Paul Cezanne

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)


The father of modern art, Paul Cezanne paved the way for Cubism, and both Matisse and Picasso credited Cezanne as “the father of us all." Born in a provincial, southern French town in Aix-en-Provence on January 19, 1839, Cezanne endured early maltreatment from, and rejection of his artistic endeavors by, his tyrannical father. Nonetheless, Cezanne defiantly chose his own way in painting with passionate colors, and eventually deliberately distorting his subjects by painting multiple perspectives in one painting (later to be exaggerated by Picasso in Cubism), deconstructing the laws of painting.

Cezanne’s early paintings depicted murder, rape, and nudity, conflicts about sexuality, entwined with violence (e.g. in “The Murder,”
where a woman holds down another woman who is being stabbed by a man. [Did Cezanne blame his own mother for not intervening or mitigating father’s dictatorial impingements?] Cezanne’s father remained contemptuous of Cezanne. A loner with many fears and phobias, Cezanne hid his private endeavors, his painting, and his mistress (later his wife) from his fearsome, cold father. Cezanne himself both feared intimacy and was easily enraged. Personally he could not stand to be touched and he was disturbed by the nudity of female models.

Eschewing the human body (nude), Cezanne would paint landscapes, still life with voluptuous fruit,
portraits, and bathers, the latter reminiscent of his youth with Zola. Frightened by women models, he tyrannically controlled his human subjects, like his son and wife. He fantasized about murdering his family of origin, upon whom he felt completely dependent, but often used them as models. Cezanne identified with Wagner’s struggles in “Tannhauser” (1861) between spirituality and sensuality. In an homage to Wagner, he painted his sister at the piano playing Wagner while his mother (darned), but his father was painted out of the picture.

Hiding his professional and private life from his father, upon whom he relied for financial support, Cezanne was encouraged by his childhood friend Emile Zola, whose boyhood bathing expeditions would later inspire portrayals on canvas (“The Bathers”--
misshapen nudes, ambiguous in their hermaphroditic bisexuality). Cezanne would follow Zola, the great French writer, to Paris. There he met Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir, and he discovered the Louvre. Finding at last, amongst great works of art, a relational home, he spent hours copying masters of the past, ancient sculptors, and Rubens. But Cezanne’s artistic talent, while supported by the Impressionists of his day, was ridiculed by Parisian haute culture and the press, and his work considered depressing and violent.

This rejection must have painfully resonated with his father’s disregard. Mocked by the critics, by the public, and even by Zola, who used Cezanne as the inspiration for the artist in his novel L'Oeuvre, which described the unsuccessful artist Claude Lantier and his ineptitude with women and painting, Cezanne felt betrayed, never spoke to Zola again, and retreated to Provence. Cezanne, an outsider when visiting Paris and his work artistically incoherent to his provincial neighbors, spent most of his life as a recluse there.


At the first Impressionists exhibit in 1874 he had not been well received. To the late 19th Century his works looked flat. Like contemporary psychoanalysts who strive to balance foreground and background, another characteristic of C├ęzanne's paintings is the equal treatment of every part of his canvas. Not only is a flattened space created by the integration of the foreground and the background, but neither dominates the other. Cezanne painted dozens of views of Mont Sainte-Victoire
from his family home Jas de Bouffan, the "Home of the Winds," with abstract sky-mountain-earth in a single solid structure, the tree in the foreground appears to merge with the image of the mountain in the background.

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