French Post-Impressionist Painter, 1839-1906
During the second half of the 19th century French impressionism created a dramatic break with the art of the past. In conception and appearance the style was radically new and, although it initially inspired public ridicule, it soon affected nearly every ambitious artist in western Europe. The new vision emerged during the 1870s, chiefly in the art of Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissarro. For each of these artists impressionism was an illusionistic style which differed from the tradition of Renaissance illusionism in its greater emphasis upon vibrant, natural color and on an immediate confrontation with the phenomena of the visible world.
As the style developed during the 1880s, however, it increasingly became characterized by paintings which were flat rather than illusionistic. In other words, the impressionists insistence upon a direct application of pigment to canvas resulted in surfaces which declared themselves first of all as surfaces - and, consequently, in paintings which declared themselves first of all as paintings rather than as windows which looked out upon the natural world.
The tendency toward flatness persisted into the last years of the 19th century, its pervasiveness giving the impression that illusionistic space - fought for, won, and defended since the very beginning of the Renaissance - had finally been sacrificed by the medium of painting. Paul C??zanne worked within and finally emerged from this trend. As a painter, he matured slowly, his greatest works coming during the last 25 years of his life. During this period he scored a remarkable and heroic achievement: he restored to painting the space and volume that had seemingly been lost to it. But he did it in a totally unprecedented way: not by return to the illusionism of the past but by the creation of a spatial illusionism that did not violate flatness.
C??zanne was born on Jan. 19, 1839, in Aix-en-Provence. His father, Philippe Auguste, was the cofounder of a banking firm which prospered throughout the artist life, affording him financial security that was unavailable to most of his contemporaries and eventually resulting in a large inheritance. In 1852 C??zanne entered the Coll??ge Bourbon, where he met and became friends with Émile Zola. This friendship was decisive for both men: with youthful romanticism they envisioned successful careers in the Paris art world, C??zanne as a painter and Zola as a writer. Consequently, C??zanne began to study painting and drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts in Aix in 1856. His father opposed the pursuit of an artistic career, and in 1858 he persuaded C??zanne to enter law school at the University of Aix. Although C??zanne continued his law studies for several years, he was simultaneously enrolled in the School of Design in Aix, where he remained until 1861.
In 1861 C??zanne finally convinced his father to allow him to go to Paris. He planned to join Zola there and to enroll in the École des Beaux-Arts. But his application was rejected and, although he had gained inspiration from visits to the Louvre, particularly from the study of Diego Vel??zquez and Caravaggio, C??zanne experienced self-doubt and returned to Aix within the year. He entered his father banking house but continued to study at the School of Design.
The remainder of the decade was a period of flux and uncertainty for C??zanne. His attempt to work in his father business was abortive, and he returned to Paris in 1862 and stayed for a year and a half. During this period he met Monet and Pissarro and became acquainted with the revolutionary work of Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet. C??zanne also admired the fiery romanticism of Eug??ne Delacroix paintings. But he was never entirely comfortable with Parisian life and periodically returned to Aix, where he could work in relative isolation. He retreated there, for instance, during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).
The Artist's Father
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC