Paul Cézanne saw the world through a unique lens, often colored by the landscapes of Provence. Ultimately the concepts Cézanne championed would lead Matisse to call him, “The Father of us all.” It took Cézanne decades to find his artistic style. Once he found it, he continued to hone it for the rest of his life. Let’s trace Cézanne’s artistic path using his landscape paintings.
The Early Years
Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence, a small town in the the sun drenched south of France. He loved to explore nature, and the hills around Provence. These scenes would show up in his landscapes throughout his
artistic career. To appease his father Cézanne studied both law, and art in Provence. Unfortunately to make it in the French art world of the 1860s, one had to go to Paris. Cézanne did. It did not go well for him. His works
were rejected by the official Paris Salon. He was able to show pieces at the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused) alongside the Impressionists.
The Searching Years
The Impressionists found Cézanne dark, and brooding. His early Paris paintings matched his mood. He would use a palette knife to slather paint onto the canvas like it was icing. Almost all of these impasto technique paintings were portraits of family members. La Vie des Champs is a rare landscape created during this brief period. For about 15 years, Cézanne bounced back and forth between Paris and the south of France. He remained influenced by the Impressionists, but his painting goals never aligned with theirs. In 1878, he moved back to Aix-en-Provence for good. Here he began to truly develop and refine his style.
Permanence and Change
Cézanne had a problem, he wanted his paintings to contain both classical elements of form, and capture a world in a state of constant flux. He realized he could do this with color modulation. Matisse began creating classic structured landscapes using mosaics of color variations. Cézanne’s canvases can be viewed as traditional landscapes, and abstract works of art. Some of his experimental paintings, like The Garden at Les Lauves are pure abstraction.
Cézanne was a meticulous painter. He often used small, deliberate brushwork. At times he would agonize over where to place a single brush stroke. He frequently stowed paintings away, sometimes waiting years to complete them. This intricate process contrasted greatly with his final works.
A New Way to See
At times Cézanne would leave canvas, and blank space peeking through patches of color. Other times the blank space became a part of the painting. In his later years these glimpses of canvas created dramatic contrast to the darker rich hues he began using. In the final decade of his life Cézanne would repeat themes from various angles and vantage points. He painted Mont Sainte-Victoire, a sight he had seen his entire life, over 30 times.