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Paul Cézanne
biography, catalogue, exhibition Finished - Unfinished
Get the catalogue Paul Cézanne: Finished - Unfinished from Amazon.com or Amazon.de
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Article added in March 2000


Biography of Paul Cézanne
 
Paul Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence (France) in 1839. His father was a successful merchant who was later able to buy the only bank in his hometown. Paul went to the college in Aix where Emile Zola (who later became a famous writer) was his classmate. Together with Jean-Baptistin Baille they formed the "inseparable three". In 1859 Cézanne passed the first exam in order to become a lawyer, but did not inscribe himself for the second year. He decided to go to Paris in April 1861 in order to become a painter. At the Académie Suisse the ten years-older Camille Pissarro, who influenced him artistically, became his friend. The Ecole des Beaux-Arts refused him admission and the discouraged Cézanne went back to Aix in September 1861 where he joined his father's bank. Soon afterwards Paul realized that he had taken the wrong decision and began to study at the local art school. In November 1862 he returned to Paris. Although the Ecole des Beaux-Arts still refused him admission, Cézanne could not be destabilized again by that decision. He established contacts wtih people like Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Pierre-August Renoir. The young painters were not allowed to take part in the official Salon, the exhibition that was essential in order to become a commercial success. In 1863 the refusal of paintings by Pissarro, Monet and Manet caused such an approar that Napoleon III was forced to establish a Salon des Refusés besides the official Salon.
 
In this period, like Manet, Cézanne saw himself as a realist, refusing the academic style. In 1870-72 he reoriented himself and turned to landscape painting in the South of France. Painting together with Pissarro in direct contact with nature, Cézanne adopted the impressionistic technique. 

He lived together with 19-year-old Emélie Hortense Fiquet, a bookbinder's assistant and occasional model for the painters. In 1872 their son Paul was born. Cézanne, afraid of losing the financial support of his father, acknowledged paternity but did not inform his parents. In 1874 he returned to Paris and tried to reconnect with the avant-garde. Cézanne was part of the first exhibition by the group later called the impressionists. In 1876 he met the customs duty inspector Victor Chocquet, his first and most fervent collector, who bought three of his pictures at the shop of the Paris color merchant Père Tanguy who supported the avant-garde and supplied them with colors and canvas in return for pictures. Later Van Gogh also had his first sales through Tanguy.
 
In 1882 Cézanne got a first painting into the Salon thanks to a trick by Antoine Guillemet who, as a member of the jury, had the right to show one work by one of his pupils without prior examination at the exhibition. The critics did not like it but Cézanne became more and more a painter's painter. In 1883 Gauguin bought two of his paintings, a year later Pissarro bought four and Signac one. The artists mostly bought from Tanguy.
 
After his father's death in 1886 Cézanne inherited a considerable fortune. He could fulfill his dream of a painter's life in Aix and no longer depended on the integration into and the success within the Paris scene in order to sell his pictures. This may also be one of the reasons for his break with Emile Zola because the central character in his novel L'OEuvre was an unsuccessful painter that committed suicide. Cézanne saw it as a portrait of himself although the character had also a certain resemblance to Manet.
 
With a few exceptions, all of Cézanne's works sold prior to 1895 went over the counter at Père Tanguy's shop. When he died in early 1894, the then unknown art dealer Ambroise Vollard bought four of his paintings on the advice of Monet. In December 1895 the first Cézanne-exhibition was held at Vollard's gallery. Again, the critics disliked his works and considered them "unfinished". But it was precisely these pictures that impressed other painters. Renoir and Caillebotte bought 4 and Degas bought 7 of his paintings through Vollard. Monet owned 14 and Pissaro owned 20 of his works. Matisse bought Cézanne's Bathers (1899). which he cherished, at Vollard's gallery.
 
In 1897, the Berlin National Gallery under its director Hugo von Tschudi acquired a Cézanne-landscape from Paris dealer Durand-Ruel. This was the first acquisition of one of his paintings by a museum. In the beginning of the 20th century Cézanne was no longer just the hero of the avant-garde but, by 1904, he dominated the Paris art scene. At the autumn Salon of the same year he was represented with 33 paintings. He also displayed his paintings at the Salon des Indépendants which Charles Morice, critic for the Mercure de France, called "a complete homage to Cézanne". In October 1906 Paul Cézaanne died while working on a portrait of his gardener Vallier.
 
Catalogue and exhibition Vollendet - Unvollendet (Finished - Unfinished), Kunstforum Vienna until April 25; Kunsthaus Zurich May 5 to July 30, 2000
 
For years, most of Cézanne's work have just been considered steps on the way to the "absolute painting" the artist was looking for. Year after year, Cézanne regularly worked on the same subjects: bathers, mount Saint-Victoire, still life, portraits of his wife and his gardener. A lot of his paintings are unfinished, some of them in the sense of incomplete works. But others are deliberately unfinished with the consideration that they were perfect that way. This was revolutionary around 1900, today, we are use to it. The exhibition tries to attribute a certain number of paintings into these two categories that are first defined in their meanings. The articles in the catalogue also examine the changes in the way Cézanne worked and the reaction to his unfinished paintings as well as the impact he had on the 20th century art scene.
  
Matisse, Picasso, the Fauves, the Expressionists as well as the Cubists were influenced by Cézanne who is considered a milestone and bridge into 20th century art. He abandoned the central perspective, deformed bodies and faces, violated the academy's rules for landscape-painting. He left untouched spots and spaces on his canvases. Sculptor Auguste Rodin also created works around 1900 that were "unfinished", marching men without heads and arms (L'homme qui marche, 1900). Rodin used the torso as an instrument of perfection. The imperfection as such was his subject of sculpting whereas Cézanne searched for perfection and just stopped painting when perfection was achieved or nothing could be added any longer without diminishing the painting's quality.
 
Cézanne once said "Je cherche en peignant" (I search as I am painting). He considered art to be a personal way of perception. As a starting point he took the immediate perception through the senses that he tried to organize and structure through the abstraction of colour and form. In that, he was diametrically opposed to the impressionists' approach because the latter expressed their unfiltered impressions of reality. In order to understand Cézanne's work, one has to look at his letters as well as the notes made by the painters and friends of Cézanne, Emile Bernard and Maruce Denis, and by the journalist Joachim Gasquet. The late John Rewald published a collection of Cézanne's letters in 1937 (French edition).

The Vienna and Zurich exhibition catalogue: Paul Cezanne: Vollendet - Unvollendet. HatjeCantz, Ostfildern, Hardcover, 408 p., 2000. Get the German catalogue from Amazon.de. The English edition of the catalogue: Paul Cézanne: Finished - Unfinished. Order it from Amazon.com.

 
Essential for the understanding of Cezanne is John Rewald, et al.: The Paintings of Paul Cezanne: A Catalogue Raisonné. Hardcover, 1997, 880 p. Get it from Amazon.com. More books about Paul Cezanne at Amazon.com.


Get the catalogue Paul Cézanne: Finished - Unfinished from Amazon.com or Amazon.de. More books about Paul Cezanne at Amazon.com.







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