"Paul Cezanne, the end of the renaissance, the awakening of a new world of painting…".
This portrait of the Aix en Provence painter, painted by Pierre Francastel, historian and art critic, has widely spread amongst the general public. Paul Cezanne, like a Christopher Columbus of painting, has become the classic example of the artist who ventures into worlds until then unknown in the history of art.
This representation of Paul Cezanne as a hero of western aesthetics, spokesman for an enternal Provence, rests on a wide diffusion of the most often recurring themes in his work. The Sainte Victoire, the Apples, the Bathers and L'Estaque do constitute interlinked pieces of a pictoral decor today known and recognized by art lovers around the entire world.
Of all the painters of the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, none has aroused so much enthusiasm nor provoked so much controversy, while Paul Cezanne himself asked only for the simple status of "craftsman". What to say to critics of whom some stuck on him the not very flattering label of "grape harvester" because of his abusive, according to them, use of colour to the detriment of drawing ?
The reasons for a unanimous recognition of Paul Cezanne's work have to be looked for in several concomitant directions. Curiously, the difficulties encountered by art critics in defining and delimiting the contours of the complex combined works are precisely at the origins of his success.
Into what category place the works of the master from Aix en Provence : into that of the impressionnists, his fellow travellers, from whom he will end up distancing himself through a spirit of independance ; halfway between romantism and realism because of his evident but not exclusive attachment to Delacroix and to Courbet ; into the later cubisme of Braque and Picasso ; or directly into modern art because of the rules of composition taken up later and attributed to Paul Cezanne…?
If all these paths deserve to be taken, they do not exhaust the meaning and the scope of Paul Cezanne's work, in constant evolution up to the affirmation of his style reaching maturity around 1890.
Other approaches, more psychological, try to win over support by drawing the portrait, often caricatural, of an antisocial man, known for his stormy temperament, who was scared stiff of the female sex and had a lot of trouble freeing himself of his father's authority.
If there incontestably exists a link between the most striking events in his private life and the essential stages in his creative undertakings, such a view does not allow for understanding the depth of a destiny exclusively devoted to painting.
That's the reason why it is necessary to appreciate the key moments in Paul Cezanne's progress by trying to go beyond the clichés even if, in glimpsing a detail in a still life or through a crack in the rocks of Sainte Victoire, its Paul Cezanne in person that we meet in flesh and blood.
Paul Cézanne posing in the front his painting The Bathers
The Bathers by Paul Cézanne
Atelier des Lauves, Aix en Provence
The Sainte-Victoire Mountain, Cézanne's inspiration
Cézanne, the Sainte-Victoire Mountain seen from Les Lauves