Cezanne, Paul

By the end of his life Paul Cézanne was recognized as one of the great masters of his era. His treatment of color and form as inseparable descriptors of the physical world was nothing short of revolutionary.

Cézanne was born in Aix, where his schoolmate was Emile Zola. The friendship ended in 1886 with the publication of Zola’s L’Oeuvre, a novel containing an unflattering portrayal of the painter. Cézanne prepared to be a lawyer, worked as a banker, and then studied painting in Paris. His canvases from 1861 to 1871, mostly portraits, are characterized by dark tones, thick paint, and strong lighting.

Camille Pissarro convinced Cézanne to adopt the broken brushwork and light palette of the impressionists. He exhibited at the first and third impressionist group shows, but soon lost faith in the goals of the movement. He claimed that his ambition was to “make of impressionism something solid and durable like the art of museums.” By 1883 the artist was conveying mass and volume through a series of hatched strokes.

A meticulous and deliberate painter, Cézanne often worked on his canvases for several months. A substantial inheritance from his father in 1886 allowed him to live comfortably in Provence. He was a shy man who adopted a deliberately crude, rustic manner to keep people away. His art had a profound impact on early twentieth-century artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, who recognized Cézanne’s post-impressionism as an essential precursor of cubism.