biography, catalogue, exhibition
Finished - Unfinished
Get the catalogue Paul Cézanne: Finished - Unfinished
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 destablized 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 offficial Salon.
In this period, like Manet, Cézanne saw himself as a realist,
refusing the academic style. In 1870-72 he reorientated himself and turned
to landscape painting in the South of France. Painting together with Pissarro
in direct contact with nature, Cézanne adopted the impressionistic
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 colour merchant Père
Tanguy who supported the avant-garde and supplied them with colours 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 fullfill 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
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
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 abanoned 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
Amazon.de. The English edition of the catalogue: Paul Cézanne:
Finished - Unfinished. Get it from Amazon.com.
In English we recommend the exhibition catalogue of the 1996-retrospective in
Paris (Grand Palais), London (Tate Gallery) and Philadelpia (Museum of Art):
Isabelle Cahn, Henri Loyrette, Joseph J. Rishel, Francoise Cachin: Cézanne.
Hardcover, 1996, 600 p.
Get it from Amazon.com
Essential for the understanding of Cezanne is John Rewald, et al.: The Paintings
of Paul Cezanne: A Catalogue Raisonne. Hardcover, 1997, 880 p. Get it from
Seated Man, 1905-06. photo copyright: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Catalogue HatjeCantz 2000.