19 January marks the 178th birthday of Paul Cézanne, the legendary French painter who is seen as the key bridge between 19th century and 20th century art. Leaving the impressionists behind, he forged a new form of representation in what would go on to inspire cubism. Always concerned with how to accurately represent how we perceive nature, his paintings are considered some of the most revolutionary of all time. In honour of this great artist, we have assembled the ultimate A-Z of his life.
A is for Aix-En-Province
The homeplace of Cézanne, he lived there from his birth in 1839 until he moved to Paris in 1861. He returned after his mother’s death.
B is for Banking
Thankfully for Cézanne, he didn’t have to work any menial jobs in order to support himself as an artist. His father was a banker, so he was always catered for. Upon his father’s death, Cezanne received 400,000 francs, setting him up for life.
C is for Catholicism
Cézanne was baptised a Catholic, and this informed his work. As he said: “When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God-made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art.”
D is for Doubt
The most famous essay written on Cézanne, and arguably one of the most important essays ever on aesthetics, is “Cezanne’s Doubt” by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. It considers how much a person’s life influences their work, or if their work stands separate from it.
E is for Ennui
Cézanne was plagued by mental illness his whole life. Upon moving to Paris he wrote: “The only thing I have changed is my location: my ennui has followed me.”
F is for Fruit
Some of Cézanne’s most famous and accomplished still lives were of fruit such as apples, pears and oranges. They are so good that when Woody Allen’s character in Manhattan lists the reasons why life is worth living, he remembers “those incredible apples and pears by Cézanne”.
G is for Geometry
Like Da Vinci before him, Cézanne was interested in the idea of geometry in art, using its principles in order to underpin the structure of his work. His innovations would go to influence Picasso’s complete fracturing of the form.
H is for History
I is for Impressionism
Cézanne was part of the impressionist movement, which also included Manet and Renoir. Wanting to capture a greater degree of realism, by using a palette of 18 colours instead of seven, he moved away from it and pioneered what is now considered to be post-impressionism.
J is for Jas de Bouffan
Belonging to Cézanne’s family from 1859 to 1899, the Bastide du Jas de Bouffan was the subject of many of Cézanne’s paintings. In 1880 he established an atelier there, and remained until his health got worse, prompting him to sell it and move to Rue Boulegon. The Bastide can still be visited for the very reasonable price of six euros.
K is for Klee
Paul Klee was especially influenced by the French painter. He appreciated the way in which Cézanne would alter colour in order to create better harmony within a pictorial composition. This is something he developed in works such as “In the Style of Kairouan” and “Red Balloon”.
L is for Light
The impressionists were especially concerned with the depiction of light. They aped light’s way of altering colour in order to create more immersive, evocative forms. Cézanne developed this immensely, spending over a hundred working sessions on each painting to get its emanation of light just right.
M is is for Modernism
Modernism is a loose term to describe a period in the early 20th century detailing an upheaval in the arts, radical innovation, futuristic thinking, and a lack of faith in institutions. Whilst Cézanne wasn’t around to see its fruition, he is seen by art critic Jonathan Jones to be one of its key forebears: “The modernist passion to look deeper, including deeper within oneself – to record not a simplistic picture of the world but a complex and hesitant perception of it – starts in the paintings of Cézanne.”
N is for Nature
Cézanne’s ultimate desire was to paint “from nature”. He believed that the most important thing was to represent the object as it was seen by the eye. It was from this steadfast belief that his artistic vision grew.
O is for Optical Perception
In attempting to render what he saw as his subjective truth into some form of objective reality, he developed the concept of binocular vision. This concept allowed him to treat his subjects cylindrically. Yet, as Jonah Lehrer writes, he went one step further, as his “desire to capture the truth of perception led him to explore binocular vision graphically, rendering slightly different, yet simultaneous visual perceptions of the same phenomena to provide the viewer with an aesthetic experience of depth different from those of earlier ideals of perspective, in particular single-point perspective.”
P is for Pissarro
He met Camille Pissarro in Paris, and the older painter would soon become his mentor. As a result of his tutelage, he stated that: “we all stem from Pissarro”.
Q is for Qatar
Cézanne’s “The Card Players” sold for a then-record $259 million when it was sold to a Qatari prince in 2011. It now stands as the third most expensive painting of all time, behind Paul Gauguin‘s “When Will You Marry” and Willem de Kooning‘s “Interchange”.
S is for Salon Des Refusés
The Salon Des Refusés was set up in 1863 by Napoleon III after paintings by Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet, and Johan Jongkind were all rejected from the internationally esteemed Paris Salon. Cézanne’s works first premiered there. He would be rejected from the Paris Salon until his first and only success in 1882.
R is for Railways
The development of the steam railway moved in conjunction with Cézanne’s life. With railway travel came a new way of perceiving depth and motion. He would use this as a major influence on his work.
T is for Technique
Cézanne’s technique consisted of heavy brushstrokes and a fairly large colour field that combined an eye for naturalistic detail with the basics of classical composition. It is this mixture of the old and new that established him as a master painter.
U is for Under-appreciated
He was not widely appreciated during his lifetime. Often derided by critics, he achieved widespread acclaim at a retrospective occurring shortly after his death.
V is for Visibility
Cézanne’s aim was to take the visible world and order it in such a way that how we see is part and parcel of how we receive it. His work showed a gradual progression towards representation of the visible through increasingly innovative forms.
W is for Will
Anxious for most of his life, so he conducted his will at the age of 46 just to make sure.
X is for eXhibition
The artist took part in the famed Impressionist Exhibitions, premiering his work at the first and third. His mentor Pissarro holds the unique distinction of showcasing works at all eight.
Y is for “Young Italian Woman At A Table”
This painting above is indicative of Cézanne’s style. Composed around 1895, it combines angularity with a defined colour scheme in order to give it its remarkable quality of immediacy.
Z is for Émile Zola
One of Cézanne’s closest friends as a young man was the naturalist novelist Émile Zola. As a man who arguably shared the same attention to pictorial detail — albeit it in another form — he heavily encouraged Cézanne to move to Paris in order to make his name.