Paul Cezanne 1839-1906 BACK

Nudes in Landscape
oil on canvas 82x102cm
Barnes Foundation

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The year 1895 marked a decisive change in Cezanne's career. Until then he was practically unknown in Paris, "almost a myth," as the young painter Maurice Denis put it. Since the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877, only two minor works of Cezanne's had been officially shown and his paintings could only be seen in the collections of a few colleagues and enlightened amateurs as well as at the shop of the color merchant Pere Tanguy. As late as 1894 the critic Gustave Geffroy could write that Cezanne was "at once unknown and famous ... a mystery surrounds his person and his work." This situation changed when, urged by Pissarro, Monet, and other Impressionist painters, the dealer Ambroise Vollard organized a show of Cezanne's work at his gallery, which opened in November 1895. This retrospective exhibition contained some 150 pictures, selected by Cezanne himself, who had shipped the canvases from Aix. As a direct result, sales increased and critical discussion of Cezanne's work established his reputation. Other exhibitions followed-again at Vollard's gallery, at the Salon des Independants, and at the Salon d'Automne in 1904-06-from which his brilliance as an artist was firmly established and his impact on younger artists like Matisse and Picasso was recognized.

This newly acquired fame had repercussions in his native Aix-en-Provence. Living until then like a recluse, Cezanne emerged suddenly as a public figure among a local group of writers and poets, led by Joachim Gasquet. Gasquet admired Cezanne's renderings of the Provencal landscape and attempted to promote a revival of the Provencal culture and language.

Following the exhibition at Vollard's gallery a steady flow of critical appreciation of Cezanne's art was published. Previously, the only positive review had been that of Georges Riviere, who hailed Cezanne in 1877 in his review L'Impressionisme "as a great painter," and stated that "in his works he is a Greek of the great period; his canvases have the calm and heroic serenity of the paintings and terra-cottas of antiquity, and the ignorant who laugh at the Bathers, for example, seem to me like barbarians criticizing the Parthenon." Unfortunately such praise was rare before the end of the century. The first major study on Cezanne was Emile Bernard's essay for the weekly biographical leaflet Les Hommes d'aujourdbui (People of Today) in 1891; and a more extensive article of 1904, simply entitled "Paul Cezanne."

In a letter to Emile Bernard on May 26, 1884, Cezanne wrote: "I always turn to this: the painter should dedicate himself wholly to the study of nature and try to produce pictures that are an instruction. Talks on art are almost useless. The work that makes one realize progress in one's own trade is a sufficient compensation for not being understood by imbeciles. The writer uses abstractions for expression while the painter makes concrete, by means of drawing and color, his sensations, his perceptions. One cannot be too scrupulous or too sincere or too submissive to nature; but one is master of one's model and above all of one's means of expression. Penetrate what is before you, and preserve it in expressing yourself as logically as possible." And again a little later: "The Louvre is the book in which we learn to read. But we must not be content to memorize the beautiful formulas of our illustrious predecessors. Let us go out and study beautiful nature, let us try to discover her spirit, let us express ourselves according to our temperaments Time and meditation tend to modify our vision little by little, and finally comprehension comes to us."

Cezanne : Visions of a Great Painter
by Henri Lallemand

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