Friday, September 11, 2015

Chapter Nine: Paul Cézanne

The Cats in Paul Cézanne’s Apple Basket

One way to look at Paul Cézanne’s career is to consider it as what happens when one of the most brilliant visually creative minds gets to work without worrying about money. 

Cézanne’s father was a wealthy banker and, except for a kerfuffle or two about Paul’s choices of career and wife, provided him with a lifetime of financial security. While he could easily have laid back as a spoiled rich kid, Paul followed his genius into becoming what many consider the most influential visual artist of the Nineteen Century. 

Yes, that includes Monet and the impressionists whose work Cézanne tried hard to bend in a more substantial direction.

“We all stem from Pissarro,” Cézanne declared, referring to the explosion of modern art during his lifetime. Unfortunately, many fewer people know who Camille Pissarro was, but you can’t be an art lover without having heard of Paul Cézanne.

Why?

In spite of Cézanne’s love for Pissarro, both Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse claimed that, in fact, Cézanne “is the father of us all.”

His early Man in a Blue Cap, painted with a palette knife, may be the first example of expressionism, which revolutionized art in the Twentieth Century, but more important, his paintings made after 1895, inspired by a visit to the Bibémus Quarries, are considered the seeds of Cubism. His intense studies of Montagne Sainte-Victoire are the examples you’re most likely to see now in a museum.

Cézanne's Cats / © Deborah Julian
His influence is everywhere. He exhibited with the first wave of impressionists who, frustrated at being rejected by the Parisian establishment, set up their own alternative exhibitions, but he was never comfortable with the evanescent quality Monet valued in his on art. He wanted to create works more substantial, like the paintings that he saw hanging in the Louvre, by inserting something more lasting in the shimmering lights of impressionism.

While Van Gogh could tear off a painting or two before lunch, for example, Cézanne spent around a hundred sittings for single still life.

By all modern accounts, he was spectacularly successful, although not in his lifetime. Although never as thoroughly rejected as Vincent Van Gogh, a painting from an early Cézanne solo show in Paris got this review from Louis Leroy: "This peculiar looking head, the color of an old boot might give [a pregnant woman] a shock and cause yellow fever in the fruit of her womb before its entry into the world.”

Art critics take note: nobody knows who Louis Leroy is anymore.

Near the end of Cézanne’s life, Henri Rochefort wrote an article about his paintings titled “Love for the Ugly.” The citizens of his hometown were so upset, they began leaving copies of the magazine in which it was published on his doorstep, along with notes asking him to leave. He was disgracing them.

Through it all, Cézanne seems to have kept his eye on the work, a Steve Jobs of his day, intent on making better, more progressive creations throughout his life, regardless of the approval of others of lesser sensibilities. 

So determined was he that he literally died from his art. The day after collapsing in a field while continuing to paint in a two hour downpour, he started work again, only to faint. The model he was working on called for help, but after being carrying him into bed, he never got up again. He was 67 years old. 

Among Paul Cézanne’s most treasured paintings are his still lifes, more intense and complete throughout the canvases. Cats love them, but only when they are still working models.
Guillaume discovered The Apple Basket first, on a day when Cézanne left the studio to paint outdoors. He jumped up on the table where the model had been set up and acted as lookout while Georges and Sam were drawn to the inspection by the rich smells and colors of the fruit.


Look at the result here. They fit, don’t they?