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Paul Cezanne, The Bathers

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1839-1906, French painter, b. Aix-en-Provence. Cézanne was the leading figure in the revolution toward abstraction in modern painting.

Early Life and Work

From early childhood Cézanne was a close friend of Émile Zola, who for a time encouraged the painter in his work. Cézanne went to Paris in 1861; there he met Pissarro, who strongly influenced his development. He divided his time between Provence and the environs of Paris until his retirement to Aix in 1899. Cézanne's early work is marked by a heavy use of the palette knife, from which he created thickly textured and violently deformed shapes and scenes of a fantastic, dreamlike quality. Although these impulsive paintings exhibit few of the features of his later style, they anticipate the expressionist idiom of the 20th century. Through Pissarro, Cézanne came to know Manet and the impressionist painters. He was concerned, after 1870, with the use of color to create perspective, but the steady, diffused light in his works is utterly unrelated to the impressionist preoccupation with transitory light effects. House of the Hanged Man (1873-74; Louvre) is characteristic of his impressionist period. He exhibited at the group's show of 1874 but later diverged from the impressionist style and developed a firmer structure in his paintings.

Mature Work

Cézanne sought to "recreate nature" by simplifying forms to their basic geometric equivalents, utilizing color and considerable distortion to express the essence of landscape (e.g., Mont Sainte-Victoire,1885-87, Phillips Coll., Washington, D.C.), still-lifes (e.g., The Kitchen Table, 1888-90, Louvre), and figural groupings (e.g., The Card Players, 1890-92; one version, S.C. Clark Coll., New York City). His portraits are vital studies of character, e.g., Madame Cézanne (c.1885; S. S. and V. White Coll., Ardmore, Pa.) and Amboise Vollard (Musée du Petit Palais, Paris). Cézanne developed a new type of spatial pattern. Instead of adhering to the traditional focalized system of perspective, he portrayed objects from shifting viewpoints. He created vibrating surface effects from the play of flat planes against one another and from the subtle transitions of tone and color. In all his work he revealed a reverence for the integrity and dignity of simple forms by rendering them with an almost classical structural stability. His Bathers (1898-1905; Philadelphia Mus. of Art) is the monumental embodiment of a number of Cézanne's visual systems. The artist's later works are largely still lifes (among them his famous apples), male figures, and recurring landscape subjects. While retaining a solid substructure, they seem freer and more spontaneous and employ more transparent painterly effects than earlier works. Cézanne worked in oil, watercolor, and drawing media, often making several versions of his works.

Influence and Collections

Cézanne's influence on the course of modern art, particularly on the development of cubism, is enormous and profound. His theories spawned a whole new school of aesthetic criticism, especially in England, that has ranked him among the foremost French masters. There are fine collections of his paintings in the Louvre; the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; and the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pa.

Used with permission.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
Copyright © 2001 Columbia University Press