Paul Cézanne…..began modern art.


Observing art with interest is not only seeing something that expresses a known or unknown reality in function of an aesthetic action, it is above all to relate in an empathic system that brings on one side the cultural conditioning of the spectator, on the other side the meaning expressed by the author of the work.

In front of a work of art, therefore, reactions can be different, from those that give immediate pleasure to those that can arouse disgust or even indifference.

It is certain that art is a language that must be well understood before any hasty judgments can be made about it.

History, time, give the measure to what is actually best understood, even when an objective beauty, an immediate pleasure, is expressed. An immediate pleasure, for example, could be ephemeral, transient, superficial, while the meaning of beauty in itself could concern an aspect not immediately grasped, not in the first instance grasped.

These considerations come above all from the experience left by the history of art where the testimonies of great artists who were misunderstood or mocked were many.

Paul Cézanne, considered the father of modern art, before Picasso or Kandinsky, was mistreated by the critics of his time so much so that his paintings were rejected by the official salons in which he aspired to participate.

Portrait of Antony Valabrègue – oil on canvas – 60 cm x 50.2 cm J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, USA (work rejected at the official Salon)

A work of art, therefore, must always be contextualized with respect to what it manifests, but above all with respect to the intrinsic values that it expresses, because these are the ones that increase knowledge and thus the cultural depth and critical capacity of the individual.

Trying to see Cézanne in relation to the contemporary world, in a world that travels in the third millennium, puts us in a position to confront the facets that the interpretation of reality and the teaching that comes from the past holds in store for us.

Today, painting a picture, taking a photograph, making a video and therefore expressing a concept are acts that bring a vision of a world in the context of everyday life in a space/time condition in which society expresses a very high speed of change, so much so that we wonder whether certain values can be perceived and internalized deeply or only abused and consumed.

To overturn what Cézanne did, or another well-known artist of the past, on the intellectual experience of our contemporary life is an act that brings us back to building so as not to forget, to size up the future with respect to that of which we are the bearers.

Cézanne is an essential value in the culture of humanity in order to understand first of all the world in which he lived, and then to approach interpreting today a part of that experience as one of the many others that have made the development of civilization thinking about how diversity can be and should be the characteristics that give us the beauty of existence.

The basket of apples , 1893. Oil on canvas, 65cmx80cm. Art Institute of Chicago , Chicago

Cézanne was an unconventional man, so his artistic work is an act to be taken into great consideration if we want to look for new motivations, if we want to interpret the search for the new, for the modern, for the future as a road that breaks the mould. Humanity carries within it the restlessness of the infinite and the whys that concern it, whether it is a spiritual motion or something more empirical, what makes man free and modern is curiosity, the thirst for knowledge, imagination.

Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence on January 19, 1839 in a family of Italian origin and wealthy. His father was an entrepreneur, a banker, steeped in respectability and bourgeois formalism, he wanted his son to study law and then he could manage the family affairs, be framed in a pre-established world.

Paul began to study law, but his vocation, beset by many inner tribulations, was painting, thus an aspiration that placed him in contrast with his father’s plans.

Cézanne never suffered from a lack of money, like many of his fellow painters of the time, and in any case he had the support of his family, even though his resigned father wanted him to be part of the official academic school, the Écoledes Beaux Arts, which produced artists who were accustomed to the taste of the time and did not give room for individualistic outbursts.

Paul did not fit into the canons of the official school and was flunked twice for his unconventional style while he did well at the Académie Suisse where there were new and interesting proposals by Delacroix and Courbet.

Today, Cézanne could be considered one of the many young men from a “good family” with a normal inclination to seek motivation and to show signs of restlessness and nonconformity.

The adolescence of this artist who would open the way for the painting of the century to come, which would be the mark even of the avant-garde, was accompanied by important friendships that would mark him profoundly in his growth, and in fact his relationship with Emile Zola is such a decisive chapter that it should be considered separately in order to understand its most significant links and nuances.

Here we consider only the fact that Cézanne had a personality built on the existential contrast of Hamlet’s doubt, and that in this a character like Zola had a great influence on his maturation.

Cézanne’s life developed between his original world, his native Provence, and the centralism of the Paris of the Second Empire, the Paris of Napoleon III, positivism and Montmartre!

Cézanne lived his entire life for art, painting was his obsession, he sought a perfection to which he declared he could never reach because in art nothing is ever finished.

The artist has a direct relationship with what is the fundamental element of representation, namely nature, the primordial interlocutor of the ontological character inherent in the work of art.

Nature was at the end of ‘800 the object par excellence of making art, the landscape that had been ideal and in the background (in the work) during the Enlightenment becomes the subject of a new interpretation that brings the feeling of the artist to a subjective view, more romantic, man sees the world around him through his emotions.

The consciousness between the self and what is other in the natural and environmental relationship finds new stimuli and solicitations in a society that is now rapidly changing between industrialization, colonialism and new urbanization. For some time now, we have begun to paint en plein air, to fix the instant as a temporal extension of a sensation that has taken place but is unrepeatable, where art and photography are the means to immortalize it.

Avenue at Chantilly, 1888. Oil on canvas, 82 cm x 66 cm. National Gallery, London.

Sacredness is the concrete manifestation of natural forces and of the interpretive and subjective energy of the artist who gives man a different space to take possession of reality, of the material of which it is made, of the sensation that cannot be fleeting and affected by indifference and superficiality.

Neoclassicism falls, the Gran Tour falls because the places of art change, it is not Rome that interests now, but the forests and the nature around Paris, or in the pleasant landscapes of the province.

Nature is studied, sketched in drawings, interpreted in its various aspects arriving at the Impressionists, overcoming the same that become the norm, through a lonely and contrasting eye that will open the modernity of the twentieth century or that of Paul Cezanne.

Cézanne at the age of 67, a month before his death wrote :

“I find myself in such a state of mental turmoil, in such a great turmoil that I sometimes fear that my weak reason will not hold up… Now it seems to me that I am doing better; I see more right in the direction of my studies. Will I one day arrive at the goal so long sought and so long pursued? I always study nature live and it seems to me that I am making slow progress”.

These are not the words of a rambling old man, but the attestation of a conception of existence dedicated to art as a science, as an instrument to search for truth, as an example to give importance to utopia, mirror of imagination that gives us back the importance of a trace, of the value that every small goal is a conquest and a new beginning.

With the Impressionists, the natural atmosphere of light and its nuances surround the object of the painting, the total environment subverts the detail and reduces the size, shape and geometry, the volume is lost.

One must be fragile and lonely to face a path of genius that is not evident to one’s own eyes, especially when one is criticized; this is Cézanne’s lesson, to go beyond dedicating oneself to the impossible.

Today, more than yesterday, the art of this artist should be lived and brought into the lives of young people through new stimuli and new tools to give them the opportunity to pause and see how in the evolution of a life every little detail is for themselves but also to improve what concerns the world around them, the society in which they live and in which they cannot be extras.

Cézanne stops to look at nature looking inside it for its structure to give it back to us in the synthesis of the basic geometric shapes that compose it.

The light is inside the object and it is not confused among things, it is like life itself which for each individual is fundamental in his self-awareness, in his self-criticism more than in the fashion of the herd or the passing motif.

In a 1904 letter to Emile Bernard our Paul wrote :

“One must treat nature through the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, the whole put into perspective, so that every part of an object, of a plane, is directed toward a central point. The lines parallel to the horizon express the breadth, which is an aspect of nature, or if you prefer of the spectacle that the Pater OmnipotensAeterne Deus unfolds before your eyes. The lines perpendicular to the horizon represent depth. For us humans, nature is more in depth than on the surface; hence the need to introduce into our luminous vibrations, represented by reds and yellows, a certain amount of blue tones to make the air feel.”

Cézanne teaches us that the man-artist dialogues intimately with what he observes; he mediates between realism and geometric abstraction that touch each other in the approach to the moment of lyricism and sacredness in the epiphany of everything that exists and in which an ethical path is always evident.

It is here that the aesthetic and existential revolution of our artist penetrates, showing in the same moment how a rock is smoothed by the flow of water, a mountain chiseled by the passage of the wind, a body structured by the intrinsic jolt of color tones.

A new interpretation of reality that touches, through his works, classical themes and settings, and in fact Cézanne studies the great artists present in museums.

In the Louvre, for example, at the invitation of his friend Zola, he spent many hours drawing, but it was not externally that he had to find the image of the world but within his consciousness.

So there is always a common thread in the beauty that changes its parameters and that is highlighted with art, the one that even in cultural revolutions sees the artists confront each other through time in a great way, even when this leads to abstruseness, incomprehension, incommunicability.

The path that the artist himself takes with respect to the consideration of the opposite sex, of love, of women, of the sense of modesty, of freedom, of the representation of the nude and its relationship with nature is emblematic in the various compositions that concern bathers.

The intrinsic path of the soul of the man-artist is inextricably linked to the relationship with sex, who expresses a creative act has a pulse that Freud traces in a frustration dormant by the satisfaction that gives him his work. The philosopher introduces the concept of sublimation as a defense of the ego and this occurs with an internalization through which the nature of objects and object relations undergoes a change.

Cézanne in his youth lived in a social context in which woman was an almost unattainable desire that he shared with his friend Zola.

Zola wrote to his friend Jean-BaptistinBaille in 1861 after reading Michelet’s “L’Amour”: “This is the heartbreaking reality: the bride is lost forever, the widow frightens me, the virgin does not exist […]. I do not deny love, and I do not despair of anything, I only wait […] for some rare exception to the rules”.

It was of the same opinion Cézanne who did not hate women, but they had a mysterious nature that confused him.

Basically, Cézanne confronts us with a construction of the work that serves him to insert the human figure into the natural context using the closest and purest subject of one or more people at the bath without, however, neglecting the elective affinity with the sexual aspect that implies his inner vision.

This subject, almost a “genre”, finds in Cézanne at least the elaboration of 200 works that culminate in the best known, and considered the masterpiece of the artist, of 1906 “The Great Bathers” preserved at the Museum of art in Philadelphia.

There is a stylistic excursus that concerns “The Bathers” for which there are several versions to testify to the heuristic path lasted throughout his life by the artist who expresses himself even better in large formats as the best form for its theatrical manifestation.

The Great Bathers, 1906. Oil on canvas, 208 cm×251 cm. Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

Cézanne teaches us that nature has a substantial structure to be found and that it is always there, always the same, far from the thunderbolt of passing sensation.

Cèzanne distances himself from the world, implodes, seeks the serenity and peace of Provence, to give a new motivation to art.

The loner, the hermit, the man who seeks a reason is the one who finds space in the spiritual, but also in the structural substance of things, is the one who does to then find a law, a system that in the end he knows he wants to divulge and share even if surrounded by a continuous uncertainty.

This is Cézanne, his message to the contemporary world is the critical growth of those who stop to scrutinize the sign to reason on the connections that lead us beyond the appearance, beyond an ephemeral and fast communication of a technological means that distracts us by placing in front of us a bland momentary happiness, it is the imagination of this artist who gives us back the humanity and the measure of nature.

It is a revelation that Paul’s art takes place in steps that see various periods in succession:

  1. Romantic period 1859-1871

He has a painting with dark impastos in which he is influenced by the great masters he sees in Louvre.

A Modern Olympia, 1873-1874. Oil on canvas, 46 cm×55 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

 2.Impressionist Period 1872-1877
Follows Pisarro’s advice, uses complementary colors, uses only color to draw. He exhibits with the group in the first (1874) and third exhibition (1877). “The House of the Hanged Man” is from this period.

The House of the Hanged Man, 1873. Oil on canvas, 55 cm×66 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

3.Constructive Period 1878 – 1887
He superimposes several points of view on the same painting, moving away from perspective. He uses a technique of short horizontal, vertical, and oblique brushstrokes with the help of the density of the color with which he gives volume to the form. Are of this period the many still lifes, portraits of his wife Madame Cézanne, motifs of everyday life, compositions of bathers.

Card Players, 1890-1895. Oil on canvas, 47.5 cm×57 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. There are 4 other versions located: “Barnes Foundation” in Philadelphia, the “Metropolitan Museum of Art” in New York, the “Courtauld Institute of Art” in London and in the private collection of the royal family of Qatar

 4.Synthetic Period 1888- 1906

From the plastic lines of the previous period, Cézanne moved towards a representation that verges on the abstract.

The Garden at Les Lauves, 1906. Oil on canvas. Phillips Collection, Washington, United States.

Cézanne escapes and alienates himself from humanity because of his social incomprehension by going to scrutinize nature in its intimacy, things are represented by the color that outlines the various changing phases induced by the phenomena for which the constitutive feature is given by the basic structural entities. The artist goes inside what he sees to represent not the form but how it evolves what distinguishes it.

The artist returns to the primordial experience that is within nature, spirit and mind cannot be separated, but valued and represented together.

Cézanne goes beyond the time of the Impressionists because he opens up the thousand spaces that distinguish him, the thousandths of becoming that make nature, there is nothing that remains what it is, the world changes.

Our artist perceives the sensations concerning a place that is certainly immortal and familiar according to a study that shows the aspect in its change, a change that is not ephemeral but concrete and in reality and in its representation, and in all this “La montagne Sainte-Victoire” is an emblematic work.

La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves, 1902-06. Oil on canvas, 65 cm x 81 cm, Private collection.

Many are the canvases he dedicated to this monument of nature in the final phase of his life so much so that continued research would lead to what is considered his greatest work, his cultural testament, the 1904-1906 version.

“The same subject, seen from different angles, offers such an interesting and varied subject for study that I think I could work for months without changing places, just by leaning a little to the right or a little to the left” ,he wrote to his son in 1906.

It is not enough to paint a single representation of the mountain, which dominates Aix-en-Provence, but there are various moments of it, so to reach the truth one must get an idea of how something can be right in its various aspects.

Thus he goes to extremes in his strokes and outlines with colors that are found as juxtaposed tesserae, complementary colors of green, blue both on the ground and in the sky.

In Cézanne we find the proper motion of research that intersects with creativity so as to become an introspective example from which to draw an ethical sense, the viewer finds the strength to confront in his own contemporaneity the narrative and perceptive aspects that the work of this artist has left.

In a universe that runs in front of a picture of an immobile mountain that gives the feeling of an immortal colossus in a nature of changing colors, contrasting, natural but also almost unreal you return to think, to pause, to scrutinize and find the essences that are at the base of what we have around to enjoy better, to draw wonder and beauty.

Life and what surrounds us have fulfillment not only in the happiness of what is achieved with the least effort, but also in what is not obviously seen and which leads to that happiness.

Cézanne through his perception of nature gives us the stimulus to better use the intellect in the development of our sensitivity, the form has an eternal soul of various possibilities.

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