Paul Cezanne images and biography
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Paul Cezanne

See also: Impressionism


"After fifty years of the most radical change in art from images to free abstraction, Paul Cezanne's painting, which looks old-fashioned today in its attachment to nature, maintains itself fresh and stimulating to young painters of our time. He has produced no school, but he has given an impulse directly or indirectly to almost every new movement since he died. His power to excite artists of different tendency and temperament is due, I think, to the fact that he realized with equal fullness so many different sides of his art. It has often been true of leading modern painters that they developed a single idea with great force. Some one element or expressive note has been worked out with striking effect. In Cézanne we are struck rather by the comprehensive character of his art, although later artists have built on a particular element of his style. Color, drawing, modelling, structure, touch and expression - if any of these can be isolated from the others - are carried to a new height in his work. He is arresting through his images - more rich in suggestive content than has been supposed - and also through his uninterpreted strokes which make us see that there can be qualities of greatness in little touches of paint. In his pictures single patches of the brush reveal themselves as an uncanny choice, deciding the unity of a whole region of forms. Out of these emerges a moving semblance of a familiar natural world with a deepened harmony that invites meditation. His painting is a balanced art, not in the sense that it is stabilized or moderate in its effects, but that opposed qualities are joined in a scrupulously controlled play. He is inventive and perfect in many different aspects of his art.

"In this striving for fullness, Cézanne is an heir of the Renaissance and Baroque masters. Like Delacroix, he retains from Rubens and the Italians a concept of the grand - not in the size of the canvas but in the weight and complexity of variation. His grandeur is without rhetoric and convention, and inheres in the dramatic power of large contrasts and in the frankness of his means. His detached contemplation of his subjects arises from a passionate aspiring nature that seeks to master its own impulses through an objective attitude to things. The mountain peak is a natural choice for him, as is the abandoned quarry, the solitary house or tree, and the diversity of humble, impersonal objects on the table.

"The greatness of Cézanne does not lie only in the perfection of single masterpieces; it is also in the quality of his whole achievement. An exhibition of works spanning his forty years as a painter reveals a remarkable inner freedom. The lives of Gauguin and Van Gogh have blinded the public to what is noble and complete in Cézanne's less sensational, though anguished, career. Outliving these younger contemporaries, more fortunate in overcoming impulses and situations dangerous to art, he was able to mature more fully and to realize many more of his artistic ideas.

"Cézanne's masterliness includes, besides the control of the canvas in its complexity and novelty, the ordering of his own life as an artist. His art has a unique quality of ripeness and continuous growth. While concentrating on his own problems - problems he had set himself and not taken from a school or leader - he was capable of an astonishing variety. This variety rests on the openness of his sensitive spirit. He admitted to the canvas a great span of perception and mood, greater than that of his Impressionist friends. This is evident from the range of themes alone; but it is clear in the painterly qualities as well. He draws or colors; he composes or follows his immediate sensation of nature; he paints with a virile brush solidly, or in the most delicate sparse watercolor, and is equally sure in both. He possessed a firm faith in spontaneous sensibility, in the resources of the sincere self. He can be passionate and cool, grave and light; he is always honest.

"Cézanne's work not only gives us the joy of beautiful painting; it appeals too as an example of heroism in art. For he reached perfection, it is well known, in a long and painful struggle with himself. This struggle can be read in his work in the many signs of destructiveness and black moods, especially in his early phase; perhaps we may recognize it too even in the detached aspect of the world that he finally shapes into a serenely ordered whole. I do not doubt that the personal content of this classic art will in time become as. evident as the aesthetic result."

- From Meyer Schapiro, "Modern Art"

Further reading on Cezanne:

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Early paintings
Still Lifes

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