Monday, February 14, 2011

More on Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) came from a wealthy family -- his was in Aix-en-Provence, France. His banker father seems to have been an uncultivated man, of whom his highly nervous and inhibited son was afraid. Despite parental displeasure, Cézanne persevered with his passionate desire to become an artist. His early paintings display little of the majesty of his late work, though today they are rightfully awarded the respect that he certainly never received for them.
self portrait
His early years were difficult and his career was, from the beginning, dogged with repeated failure and rejection. In 1862 he was introduced to the famed circle of artists who met at the Café Guerbois in Paris, which included Manet, Degas and Pissarro, but his awkward manners and defensive shyness prevented him from becoming an intimate of the group. However, Pissarro was to play an important part in Cézanne's later development.
One of the most important works of his early years is the portrait of his formidable father. The Artist's Father (1866, 199 x 119 cm (78 x 47 in)) is one of Cézanne's 'palette-knife pictures', painted in short sessions between 1865 and 1866. 
The realistic content and solid style reveal Cézanne's admiration for Gustave Courbet. Here we see a craggy, unyielding man of business, a solid mass of manhood, bodily succint from the top of his black beret to the tips of his heavy shoes. The uncompromising verticals of the massive chair are echoed by the door, and the edges of the small still life by Cézanne on the wall just behind: everything corresponds to the absolute verticals of the edges of the canvas itself, further accentuating the air of certainty about the portrait. Thick hands hold a newspaper--though Cézanne has replaced his father's conservative newspaper with the liberal L'Evénement, which published articles by his childhood friend, Emile Zola. His father devours the paper, sitting tensely upright in the elongated armchair. Yet it is a curiously tender portrait too. Cézanne seems to see his father as somehow unfulfilled: for all his size he does not fully occupy the chair, and neither does he see the still life on the wall behind him, which we recognize as being one of his son's. We do not see his eyes-- only the ironical mouth and his great frame, partly hidden behind the paper.

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