Paul Cezanne Biography

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Paul Cézanne (1839–1906)

French post impressionist painter, born in Aix-en-Provence. Son of a rich banker, he wrote poetry, and had as one of his boyhood friends Emile Zola, who persuaded him, against his father’s wishes, to take up art in Paris. From 1863 he joined the group round Manet, and his earliest works, influenced by Delacroix, were often erotic or mythological scenes executed with violent strokes of the palette knife.

The Franco-Prussian War having broken up the group, Cézanne became more closely associated with the Impressionists, and through Camille *Pissarro (1872–73) became friendly with Monet and Renoir. He soon developed an original and personal style.

He saw natural objects as made up of basic geometrical forms, such as the cylinder, sphere or cone, and his aim was to represent them by colour alone without shadows or perspective, space being suggested by a series of receding planes. Cézanne achieved his effects with a limited colour range: blue, green and tan predominantly, and brushwork as distinctive as it is difficult to describe. From about 1876 he gave up small brush strokes and painted in masses.

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His subjects, repeated over and over again, were few: landscapes, still life (mainly fruit and flowers), a few local portraits (and some of himself) and groups of card players and bathers. The enormous prices now paid for his works make it hard to credit that, until he was over 50, Cézanne’s talent went almost unrecognised. He became embittered and eccentric, withdrew to Provence in 1878 and except for short intervals lived there in seclusion for the rest of his life.

When his father died (1886), leaving him enough to live in comfort, he married Hortense Figuet, a model with whom he had previously lived, and his work of the next 10 years is his most serene and assured. His last works are more violent and lyrical, e.g. the wonderful variants of Le Chateatu noir and Mont St Victoire.

In 1895 Ambroise Vollard (1865–1939), a leading art dealer in Paris, mounted his first exhibition and thereafter Cézanne enjoyed at least moderate fame. A diabetic, he died from exposure after a fall.

He had a profound influence on Matisse, Picasso and Braque. Cubism was the obvious development of his geometrical theories but his influence extended far more widely and his works led from the traditional schools to the revolutionary theories and techniques of today.

The Card Players (1893) was bought by the royal family of Qatar in 2011 for $US250 million, making it the most expensive painting in the history of art.