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PAUL CEZANNE

Paul Cezanne, January 19, 1839 (Aix-en-Provence, France); died October 22, 1906 (Aix-en-Provence, France)

Bold use of color; innovative use of perspective; preoccupation with geometric shapes and interchange between light and shade; unusual composition

Born the illegitimate child of a wealthy banker, Paul Cezanne desired to become an artist from childhood, an ambition of which his overbearing father sternly disapproved. Fear of his father and the insecurity associated with his own illegitimacy seem to have plagued Cezanne throughout his life. At the age of twenty-two, Cezanne spent six months in Paris studying art and mixing with other artists; the period led to one of his great depressions, and his feelings of low self-worth led him to destroy many of his paintings. He returned to Aix-en-Provence but by 1862 he was back in Paris, determined to make it as an artist. Together with his great friend, the writer Emile Zola, he became politically active, declaring himself a revolutionary. Despite his stance, Cezanne was desperate to be accepted by the elite world of Parisian artistic society. When his works were rejected by the Salon, he was eaten up with depression again, yet this time he persevered. In 1863, an alternative exhibition, the "Salon des Refuses", was created. Cezanne exhibited alongside other "rejects", including Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, and Henri Fantin-Latour. Two decades later, the first of his works was accepted by the Salon in 1882. Cezanne's early works evoke a moody atmosphere with a somewhat claustrophobic feel and are painted with a dark and gloomy palette. In the 1870s, his style changed. At around this time, he fell in love with Emilie-Hortense Fiquet and also came to be associated with the impressionists, working particularly closely with Pissarro. In 1874, Cezanne exhibited with the group, although he did not consider himself a true impressionist. He wanted his art to be more "solid and durable". Long impressed by Flemish art, Cezanne painted a number of still lifes in color palettes similar to those used by the Flemish masters. His best known is Apples and Oranges (c. 1895-1900), a painting that manages to elevate a prosaic subject to the realm of great art. In 1886, Cezanne's father died and the artist inherited his wealth. By this time, his work was being sought by serious art collectors; yet despite this success, Cezanne could never rid himself of the feeling that he was a failure. An artist who felt empathy with the scenes he created, Cezanne's artistic style evolved with the changes that took place in his life. In the latter half of the 1860's, he was using an almost clumsy, perhaps angry, style of layering paint on canvas, such as in the 1866 portrait of his father, yet soon he was producing such sensual scenes as The Avenue at the Jas Bouffan (c. 1871), a rich, unusual interpretation of the parkland on his father's estate. He returned repeatedly to landscapes and themes that intrigued him, attempting numerous re-creations according to the varied emotions they provoked in him at different stages of his career. Toward the end, his work was characterized by the harmonious, dreamily colored studies he produced of nudes, most famously in Les Grandes Baigneuses (c. 1894 - 1905).

To know: Cezanne first met Emile Zola in 1852 when they were pupils attending the same school. Their friendship remainded close, with each appearing to hero-worship the other, Zola seemingly in awe of Cezanne's art, and Cezanne of Zola's writing. Zola was also an amateur artist, and the two boys spent most of their free time together, walking and sketching in the countryside of Aix-en-Provence. Cezanne always kept in his possession a screen that the two friends had painted together, an object that appears in many of his paintings; Zola also modeled for Cezanne. It was thanks to Zola that the artist left Aix-en-Provence and moved to Paris. After Zola's father died, the writer and his mother moved to the city. Zolas persuaded his friend to follow them, and concentrate on his art, despite Cezanne's father's clear disapproval. The two men had been friends for more than thirty years when Zola, who was by then a successful novelist, published his book L'Oeuvre (The Masterpiece) in 1886. Its main character, Claude Lantier, is a failing, anxious, sexually insecure artist who commits suicide. Although believed to have been an amalgam of many of the artists Zola knew, Cezanne saw it as a direct satire of himself, ridiculing many of the secrets he had revealed to Zola over the years. It caused the end of their once-beautiful friendship.