Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was a French Post-Impressionist painter. He is credited with having influenced the transition from impressionism to early 20th century cubism.
Paul’s father was a very successful banker who hoped his son would follow in his footsteps. He sent him to law school, but Paul was more enthusiastic about poetry and art. Paul’s friend Émile Zola invited him to come to Paris, which he did in 1861, planning to study. He applied to the famous École des Beaux Arts, but was turned down, so he attended the Académie Suisse, where he met Camille Pissarro, who became his mentor. He also became acquainted with Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. He often spent time in the Louvre, where he copied works of masters such as Michelangelo, Rubens, and Titian.
In 1869, Cézanne met Marie-Hortense Fiquet. They had a son, Paul, in 1872, but did not marry until much later. Cézanne kept their relationship a secret from his father, who gave him a monthly allowance that Paul was afraid he’d withhold if he knew the truth. His fear was well-founded, because when his father found out about his mistress and illegitimate child in 1878, he cut his allowance in half, sending him into great financial difficulty. (Six months later, he increased the allowance substantially.)
When Cézanne finally married Marie-Hortense in 1886, it was to legitimize their son Paul; Cézanne and Fiquet’s relationship had deteriorated long before. Cézanne was socially awkward, shy, moody, irritable, and prone to depression; at least two of his good friends called him “strange.” Yet, Marie-Hortense was his most frequent model for portraits, not that any of them were particularly flattering.
Cézanne bucked Paris’ strict standards for art; he’d not been admitted to the École des Beaux Arts despite applying twice; both the Salon de Paris and the Salon des Refusés refused to display his paintings. He was having very limited success, but he insisted on developing his own style. Pissarro instructed him in impressionistic techniques, but Cézanne’s interpretations were not well-received. Influenced by Gustave Courbet and Eugène Delacroix, he abandoned impressionism and pursued an everyday realism that was free of prettiness or customary symbolism.
I particularly like Cézanne’s landscapes and still lives. His portraits have a roughness that I find unpleasant.
Cézanne’s reputation took off around 1895 with the first solo show of his paintings. Other artists, such as Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Pissarro, purchased his work, and his prices skyrocketed.
In 1886, Cézanne’s father died, leaving his estate to Cézanne’s mother and sisters and a large sum of money to Cézanne. His financial problems were over.
In 1906, Cézanne passed away from pneumonia after suffering hypothermia from being caught in a storm.
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