Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Paul Cézanne

Mix Master
About Mr.B

Paul Cézanne: 1839-Oct. 23,1906...France

"Drawing and color are by no means two different things. As you paint, you draw...When color is at its richest, form is at its fullest."
~Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne, who was the artist’s artist, was the leader of the Post-Impressionist style of "Proto-Cubism" and one the innovators of modern art. Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence, 400 miles from Paris. Growing up, he struggled with school and took on a few art classes. There were things about Cézanne that were very average: he loved to swim, he was a morning person, and saw himself drawn to personality of Napoleon. His very well off family had built a fortune in banking and the family was going to continue to prosper with Paul educated to become a lawyer. It was his father’s idea to study law, but he was driven toward a career in art. When Paul chose to become an artist, his mother was very supportive, but his father was a little less than thrilled.
Strangely enough, although Cézanne’s father disapproved of his career choice, it was his family that made him such a huge success. Cézanne worked only to satisfy himself. He could careless about people commissioning work, selling work, or what people thought about his work. Money was a total non-issue to him. In fact, he rarely sold his art at all and it is this limited success that likely kept him his own artist. This has also made him extreamely popular to this day.

In 1861, Cézanne took off for Paris. He applied and was rejected by the training school for the Paris Salon, École des Beaux Arts. Cézanne was seen by most in Paris as a country bumpkin, but much of this was played up a bit, but I would also say he was an odd man at best. Attempting to improve himself, he was spending a lot of time in his early years copying the masters at the Louvre, especially Peter Paul Rubens, who Cézanne said, "That's what a painter is, just as Bethoven is the musician and Plato is the philosopher." He also enjoyed the works of Eugčne Delacroix. He would soon abandon this study of masters for the study of nature, saying that "all pictures painted inside, in the studio, will never be as good as those done outside."

Within Cézanne’s circle of artists was Mary Cassatt. After one dinner gathering she told a friend that Cézanne "takes his chop in his fingers and pulls the meat from the bone." Although she was a little shocked by his manners, she did go on to say that he "shows politeness toward {women} which no other man here would have shown." This was very Cézanne. He was a brute that was overly unbrutish. There are many examples of this opposite personality of him: He wanted to overturn art traditions in drawing, painting, technique, proportion, etc., but he practiced the traditions he wanted changed; He would cuss and swear all the time, but memorized long passages of Virgil in Latin; He's critics (who he hated) said he was unable to draw, but he went to the Louvre all the time copying its art into his sketchbooks; He hated priests, but attended mass weekly; He hated the Paris Salon, but submitted his work there every year; He felt that he was a failure as an artist, but he had a pet parrot that was taught to say "Cézanne is a great painter." There were several odd quirks in the personality of Cézanne. He did not like being touched, even by his own son, and was cautious of women. Paul was getting more into the Paris art scene when he met a pretty 19 year-old artists model named Hortense Fiquet. Cézanne fell in love and began to live with the girl that was eleven-years younger. He did not want to explain the relationship to his father, so it was not brought up. Cézanne hid her from his dad for seventeen years, even after their son Paul Jr. was born in 1872. They were eventually married in 1886.

Cézanne refused to compromise his artistic style, even for the official French Salon. He created works for the French Salon that he knew would be rejected. Although he was rejected, he was still learning from these art experiences in Paris. He first became involved with the ring of guys that would be known as the Impressionists in 1863 when he was invited to be a part of Salon des Refusés. Then on April 15, 1874 the first exhibition of the Impressionists opened. Cézanne had three paintings in the show. Although he is seen as an Impressionist, he was only in one other Impressionist show (1877).

Cézanne was an artist that preferred to work in oil and watercolor paints. After looking at the subject for long periods of time he would suddenly jump to working. It was first roughly drawn, but not a lot of time was spent drawing. "Treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything brought into proper perspective so that each side of an object or a plane is directed toward a central point." Looking at even the most complex images, Paul would break them down into simple geometric shapes. Rather than shading the canvas in the traditional way of building up the layers of pant light to dark or vise-versa, he worked by juxtaposing differently colored shapes that were patched onto the canvas. Because he sees this as the ideal way to create the picture, he questions use of one-point perspective. A viewer of his works sees his uneven structure to painting that was truly a style years before its time. Cézanne was very fearful that another artist would steal his secrets about color usage. Gustave Corubet developed Cézanne's painting technique, called couillarde, using a painting knife in place of a brush. Using quick aggressive slashes at the canvas, Cézanne was on the verge of attacking the canvas with a violent artistry. On the rare occasion that he painted with others, he usually painted with his friend, teacher, and father figure Camille Pissarro, ("he was a father to me; someone to turn to for advice, not unlike the good Lord Himself.") however he preferred to paint in isolation. He was very protective of his privacy, even at the peak of his fame. He would get violently up set by people that crossed a line between his public and private lives. An example of this extreme nature within Cézanne came in 1895. Art dealer Ambroise Vollard wanted to feature 150 of his artworks in his gallery, but Cézanne refused to participate. Why would an artist not want their art seen? Again for Cézanne, it was a privacy issue. He hated his art being known and required his privacy. He was also insecure with his abilities and was so convinced that no one wanted his pictures, he would abandon them in the locations where they were painted. It was hard for him so see his own skill.

Great pains were taken to set up his observational works. Still lives with hidden piles of coins that propped up odd objects like skulls and plaster casts along with an assorted collection of bottles and apples. We get a better idea of how Cézanne worked from the accounts told by Ambroise Vollard, a young art dealer who gave Cézanne his first exhibition, after he sat for a painting. The work was created in the 1890’s in four-hour sittings over 115 days (that is 460 hours). Vollard speaks of Cézanne as a serious and overly critical painter who worked painfully slowly. Cézanne had a violent temper that would go off in an instant. On one occasion he got so frustrated with his paintings progress that he tore down about ten watercolor paintings off the wall in his studio, tossed them into the fire, and was then calmed. He sat and resume painting. He was also blunt with his artistic opinions. On another occasion a very excited Vincent van Gogh showed Cézanne a painting to see what he thought and he only replied, "You positively paint like a madman."

With a career that began with still lives, Cézanne would evolve into the addition of the human form in the early 1890’s. One of those works that I truly enjoy, is The Card Players. For Cézanne, this was a study of life and volume. He builds a volume with tonal build almost independently. This was a theme that he repeated five times. He was able to repeat it so often because each person was painted individually, and then assembled into painting later. Each was paid five francs per session.
The Card Players
1890-1895. Oil on Canvas. 18.7 X 22.4 in.

In 1902 he built a new studio, Les Lauves, in Aix, France. It was close to his favorite view of his favorite subject, Mont Sainte-Victoire (Mount San-ve-tWA). Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire in oil over thirty times and in watercolor dozens of times. This major force in this landscape was a huge influence to his art. Beyond that, Cézanne loved the solitude that came with painting the back country of this region. This studio provided the perfect escape, as well as a large enclosure for him to work on larger works. He even had a custom, small thin door built into the studio so he could more practically remove his large paintings. He had been diagnosed with diabetes in 1890 and as a result his eyesight may have been failing as he painted his later works. In October of 1906, Cézanne left his studio to paint the mountains on foot. He was caught in a thunderstorm. Without the energy to return home he collapsed on a country road. He was found and carried back to town on a laundry cart. In his last letter to his art dealer, he wrote, "I want to die painting." He died six days later at the age of sixty-seven. After his death his art lived on to inspire artists like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and George Braque, as well as artists who were less obviously influenced, like Alberto Giacometti, Max Beckmenn, and Jasper Johns. To me he was one of the true artists of all time. He could careless about shows, galleries, and sales: he was absorbed with the work of creating great works of art, and that alone, regardless of the cost to him personally or professionally.


Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063