Cézanne peint…

Who is the “Father of all Painters”?

Duchamp in 1913? He did turn Art on its head with his Bicycle Wheel (1913) and Fountain (1917), refusing to be led by any aesthetic diktat. But he did not paint much…

Picasso in 1907? A few weeks back, the blog took you along his rejection of painting only the beautiful when he discovered African Art and created Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).

But even before these two game changers of the art world, there was Cézanne, the man whom Picasso declared was “the Father of all Painters”.

Let me paint you Cézanne in just a few words and numbers:

apples (vibrating, preferably on a sliding white cloth or drapery),

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Paul Cézanne, detail from Pomme et Linge, Fondation Gianadda, on loan from Mitsubishi Ichikogan Museum,Tokyo

Madame Cézanne, showing zero emotions (yet there are almost 30 portraits of her)

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Detail from Madame Cézanne à l’éventail, vers 1878-1888. At Fondation Gianadda, loan from Collection E.G. Bührle, Zurich

and…

Mont Saint-Victoire in all its glory (painted 80 times).

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Mont Saint-Victoire and Chateau Noir, 1904, Ishibashi Collection, viewed at Musée d’Orsay

I am usually drawn to Cézanne’s colorist approach – the infinite variations of blues, greens and oranges – but I find him hard to get into.

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Detail from La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves, 1902-1906 – Fondation Gianadda, on loan from Private Collection

The intense scrutiny and restraint he applied to every single brushstroke is palpable but to me, it’s a natural barrier, like those protruding dots on the floor meant to slow your food trolley down (yes, I do that to!). It is as if canvas was turned receptacle – even reliquary – of something I can’t trespass or be privy to.

Perhaps because Cézanne’s quest for painting permanence and stillness in all his subjects requires an almost meditative disposition hard to achieve when any dedicated exhibitions bring such crowds of people to museums. Does that mean I give up?  Me being me, I rather tripled down on exposure!

This year turned out to be a great opportunity to learn more about Cézanne. Guidance from Art History lecturer Linda Blair, MA and two exhibitions respectively dedicated to Cézanne’s Portraits at Musée d’Orsay and his Landscapes – Le Chant de la  Terre at Fondation Gianadda gave me much to reflect on what makes Cézanne such an influencer.

Let’s start with Cézanne’s Portraits at Musée d’Orsay. How can a man renowned for his quasi-absence of social skills manage to get under people’s skin to litterally draw them out on canvas? By revolutionising the genre, of course!

Cézanne rejected the convention that portraits should convey social identity.  In late 19th century, this was invariably staged or affected in a grand exercise of beautification and idealization anyway.

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Detail from Dubufe, Madame F., 1850-51, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Ingres portraits were what Cézanne particularly rejected but this close-up of Madame F. ‘s hands by Dubufe striked me as a perfect illustration of how Cézanne approached the same subject in a radically different way. Two different worlds, right?

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Detail from Madame Cézanne cousant, 1877, at Musée d’Orsay, on loan from Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

I actually think there is a whole debate about how realistic each pair of hands actually is!

From 1866 onwards, the looser brushstrokes of Impressionism clearly influenced Cézanne’s dual process of deconstruction and reconstruction applied to portraits and about everything else.

For Cézanne, painting was about “sensations” but I think it goes beyond the Impressionists’ “impressions” and fleeting moment captured on canvas.

Remember, Cézanne struggled with people in the real world. Spontaneity, conversations, noise and restlessness (Yes, my children are offschool and why would you think I have my children in mind here?? 😂), it’s all a bit too much for Cézanne the analyzer. He needs to bring people’s heartrate down, to the stage where you wonder if they still have a pulse. I am looking for a word that I don’t think exists. Allow me to invent one: personalescence, a personal yet timeless essence, filtered through the artist’s deep analysis and coalesced in paint.

There, Cézanne experienced his “sensations”. Having reduced people as if decanting the dredges from their personalities, he painted them back as corporeal enveloppes in airtight surroundings, each rebuilt with small colored blotches as cellular elements.

Turning Impressionism into “something solid and durable, like the art found in museums” – Cézanne’s words, not mine (his Impressionist friends must have felt the love!).

Cézanne used this exact same approach to synthetise the landscapes of his beloved South of France. Such an analytical technique will go on to inspire the multiple facets of Cubism, Malevich’s Constructivism, Gauguin’s Cloisonism…In other words, the art world found direction thanks to Cézanne!

The big deal though is that Cézanne’s portraits, still-lives and landscapes are painted in the exact same way, as Linda Blair, MA put it bluntly but rightly.

Cézanne dissected the color of his wife’ skin much like he decomposed the colors of apples or the ochre soil of Mont Sainte Victoire.

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Detail from La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves, 1902-1906 – Fondation Gianadda, on loan from Private Collection
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Detail from Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair, 1877, at Musée d’Orsay, on loan from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Detail from Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress, 1839, at Musée d’Orsay, on loan from the MET.

Fondation Gianadda managed to assemble such a vast array of landscapes that simply stepping back made the vibrating quality of Cézanne’s rhythmic brushstrokes impossible to ignore.

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Paul Cézanne, Exhibition Le Chant de la  Terre at Fondation Gianadda

I could sense Cézanne’s incredibly structured analysis and composition applied to everything he laid eyes on. His distinctive rectilinear touches, stacked to reconstruct his almost pixelated vision, raising the horizon line in the process and annihilating all vanishing points. As Cézanne was propulsing the art world foward, he was actually building depth going back to a medieval approach to perspective, stacking his vertical brushstrokes as layers of building blocks.

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Each “constructive touch” is either a cylinder, a sphere or a cone, as Cézanne liked to say Nature could be elementally reduced to.

In a sense, this is not so different to what Picasso will later learn from African masks and the simplified geometric shapes of their eyes or mouths. Yet, such a geometric approach lacks the curves and lines that came to define being human as opposed to schematic.

As it turned out, Cézanne’s portraits never pleased, possibly even settling scores with his models who invariably became exasperated by hours of required seating to accomodate Cézanne’s agonizingly slow application of paint. Yet, he was not kind with himself either…

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But I guess, you have to feel for Hortense, his wife. Did she pose patiently for hours, hoping that Cézanne would “realize his sensations” as he neatly splitted compositions between left and right, organising a human being as part of the furniture? Did she get numb in the process?

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Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress, 1839, at Musée d’Orsay, on loan from the MET

Above, Cézanne seems more interested in the multiplicity of points of view and the careful rendering of the motif on the drapery. Hortense is painted in a similar way to his still lives with apples, on the verge of tipping over…


Here, look at her ear matching the carved wood of the furniture and wallpaper motif as a negative symmetry of her face. She has barely any volume to peel her off the background wall. With her nose painted along the sane lines as the door panel behind, she becomes surroundings, painted with equal care and attention as innanimate objects in a still-life.

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Madame Cézanne cousant, 1877, at Musée d’Orsay, on loan from Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Here again, the shape of her eyes replicate the wallpaper motif. The shape of her collar matches the shape of her fingers in symetry with her bow and hairline while…

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Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair, 1877, at Musée d’Orsay, on loan from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

…the satiny green stripes of her skirt are treated the same way as the countless greens of the trees in Cézanne’s landscapes and water reflections.

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And it’s the incredible vibrating quality of his brushstrokes as well as the infinite variations of colors which deliver life and sensations in Cézanne’s paintings. Yet according to Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz in 1906, Cézanne never “copies” Nature but instead “transposes it”.

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Playing verticals against horizontals and diagonals, it’s the same flicker of a movement and subtle alteration that set Concrete Poetry going in the blog of a few weeks past (read it here). C.F. Ramuz elegantly sums it as “style”.

The art world would be all the poorer had Cézanne not persevered in imprinting his unique style, repeatedly, one brishstroke at a time, to pave the way for the future of art.

Cézanne’s Portraits at Musée d’Orsay, Paris is on until September 24, 2017 and his Landscapes – Le Chant de la Terre at Fondation Gianadda in Martigny, Switzerland is on until November 19, 2017.

I am forever indebted to Linda Blair, MA and her enlightning art lectures on Cézanne.

© 2017 Ingrid Westlake
All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.

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6 thoughts on “Cézanne peint…

  1. The painter famous for still life paintings of apples and Hortense his partner , He said ” you must do modelling like an apple, an apple don’t move! He paints women like apples, women are apples according to him!
    And the result is no expressions in her face, no mind.
    He didn’t want to copy the Nature.
    In the Landscape “La Montagne Ste Victoire”, his mind is tortured.Colors and several superposition of coat painting is typical of his unique style.
    I saw the bioptic with Guillaume Gallienne, and I knowed he has an angry behavior and he was jealous about his friend Zola who to thanks him, one day, gave him a bag of apples!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Ingrid for sharing your comments. I don’t like Cezanne. His painting is too painful. I feel in his paintings he was struggling too much . The color palet is sad tithe exception of a couple of paintings. I saw the biopic, I think it might reflect quite well what he was feeling towards his paintings and the frustration that appears in them.
    Thank you Ingrid . Enjoy your visits ! See you soon I hope

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pleasure, Virginie…Cézanne was indeed really tormented. I loved getting to see a lot of the paintings I got to work on during my studies. I just need a full Cézanne still-life exhibitions now 😂 What is striking is the multitude of individual touches and brushstrokes that Cézanne over-analyzed before applying each one of them. Equally tormented was Van Gogh but he came up with such a radically different way to express his emotions with paint. Learning about them both as compare / contrast has been an eye-opening teaching on techniques and expressionism…Endless pleasure really! All the best to you and let me know whenever you’re back in LJ. 😘

      Like

  3. Cézanne doesn’t seem to be an “interesting” man.

    It took a long time for him to be recognized and exposed. His work has long been “incompris”. He was pre-cursor of cubism ; Much geometry in his works.
    His painting seems pixelated.- pixelisé ?
    When one thinks of Cézanne, one retains three ideas, the apples, his wife and the Ste Victoire … His work seems “sans âme”, it is sad and “frozen”; He does not represent his wife in a very flattering manner ! Well, everything is relative, it’s a question of feeling !!
    At the time of Impressionism Cézanne brought its avant-garde style that will make school but … later …
    Nevertheless, my amateur eye likes to look at some of his paintings: :”le pont de la rivière aux trois sources”, “Vue de l’Estaque et du Château d’If”, “Gardanne”……

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marie-Annick, I got 2 comments from you so I am only publishing / responding to the last one since it goes over many of the same points you raised.
      I think a lot of Cézanne’s paintings can be explained by his deeply analytical character which, unfortunately, came at the expense of true happy emotions in his life…You read me well about the pixelization of his works. He tried to reduce, dilute, compress everything he saw to an individual brushstroke. This would come to influence other artists like Paul Signac who actually owned one painting called La Plaine de Saint-Ouen-L’Aumône vue prise des carrières du Chou (1880). It definitely looks like avant garde pointillism. Signac owning this, he would have been able to develop his technique. But that is still another movement which may owe a lot to Cézanne…
      Like you, I think I prefer his landscapes which usually come across as “living landscapes”, more alive than the seaters to his portraits.
      Thanks for reading, as always.

      Like

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