Paul Cezanne:
the ‘Odd’ Father of Modern Art.

Paul Cezanne offers a good story of hope for the rest of us: apparently Cezanne started out with quite a limited drawing and painting ability...and came to be considered the father of modern art!

Although he did exhibit work at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, Cezanne is not usually considered an Impressionist himself; he was a contemporary and friend. He is more often considered one of the post-Impressionists.

Paul Cezanne. House of the Hanged Man. 1873. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.Paul Cezanne. House of the Hanged Man. 1873. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.

Cezanne (1839-1906) was born into a rich family so he never had to worry about selling his paintings to make a living and, therefore, didn’t have very strong motivation to exhibit his work. He was in his fifties when he had his first solo exhibit in 1895, and he never became famous until just a few years before his death in 1906.

Cezanne was born in Aix-en-Provence on January 19th, 1839. After graduating from the law school in Aix, Cézanne announced to his parents that he was going to be a painter. They reluctantly moved him to Paris in April of 1861. Rather typical of his unsociable and odd personality, while in Paris, he never got out to meet other artists. After 6 months, he gave up, tore up his canvasses and went back home to Aix-en-Provence to work in his father’s bank.

Paul Cezanne. Kiss of the Muse. 1859-60. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.Paul Cezanne. Kiss of the Muse. 1859-60. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.

Cezanne then realised he hated working in the bank even more, so he tried moving to Paris again a year later, but with a stronger determination to make it work this time. Nonetheless, he was repeatedly turned down by the Beaux Arts School and the Salon de Paris exhibitions.

Cezanne was not a sociable person; he was a bit difficult and he had an odd and quirky personality. In spite of this, other artists eventually started to notice him and admire and appreciate his work, so he did eventually become somewhat a part of the artists’ community in Paris.

Paul Cezanne. Maincy Bridge. c.1879. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.Paul Cezanne. Maincy Bridge. c.1879. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.

Up until the age of 30, Cezanne’s paintings were rather dark and gloomy, but when he hit 30 and met his life partner, Hortense Fiquet, he started painting landscapes ‘en plein air ‘(outside) like the Impressionists were doing. In 1872, he and Hortense moved to Pontoise, just outside of Paris, as did their friend Camille Pissarro. Cezanne and Pissarro painted alongside each other for 2 years and then Cézanne showed his works at the first Impressionist exhibit in 1874, as did Pissarro.

Cezanne hid his relationship with Hortense from his father for 17 years, even though they had a baby together in 1872. They finally got married in 1886.

Paul Cezanne. Mont Sainte Victoire. c.1890. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.Paul Cezanne. Mont Sainte Victoire. c.1890. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.

For the rest of his life, Cezanne went back and forth from Paris to Aix. He still enjoyed painting ‘en plein air‘ like the Impressionists, but he developed his own unique style of painting that broke his landscapes down into geometric shapes.

His favourite subject would appear to have been Mont Sainte-Victoire, because he did more than 60 paintings of it, playing with light and colour.

Paul Cezanne. The Blue Vase. 1889-90. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.Paul Cezanne. The Blue Vase. 1889-90. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.

Sometimes Cezanne would work on one painting for months, or even years. He would spend hours arranging a basic few objects for one of his still lifes, to the point that fruit would sometimes have spoiled before he was done with it.

He painted his still lifes painstakingly from his models, but tweaked the colours to get the contrast he wanted.

Paul Cezanne. Apples and Oranges. 1899. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.Paul Cezanne. Apples and Oranges. 1899. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.

For Paul Cezanne, the ultimate goal in art was to create the perfect artistic composition. He didn’t feel it was enough to just copy or record a scene; but that it was necessary to present an artistic arrangement. He is often called “the father of modern art” because this was a new way of looking at art.

While in Paris, you’ll find several of Paul Cezanne’s paintings on display at the Orsay Museum.