Paul Cézanne was a French painter, representing the so-called Post-Impressionist movement. In short, his work based on the Impressionist technique of painting by means of series of brush strokes, but also leaned towards the angular shapes of Cubism. Art critics today call it a fluent transition between the 19th century and 20th century in visual arts. Cézanne’s style of painting is very recognizable, even to the untrained eye. His works always contain an intense sense of cognitive inquiry into the subject’s nature. Matisse and Picasso often mentioned Cézanne’s paintings as having a great influence on their own work. Cézanne was a very prolific artist: he made over 900 oil paintings and 400 watercolors. Impressive!
1. The Large Bathers
The Bathers are often recognized as Cézanne’s finest piece. The painting is often compared with Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, due to its subject matter, i.e. depicting a bevvy of nude women. And although Picasso’s painting is much more abstract, the two pieces do share a common leisurely feel. The painting is the first one in the Bathers series. It is also the most accessible one. Other Bathers paintings created by Cézanne, were painted in a much more demanding manner with intent. The artist wanted thus to express his disinterest with painting in accordance with temporary fashions and to create timeless works of art, which would be admired by even the most sophisticated viewers.
2. The Basket of Apples
This is one of the many still life paintings by Cézanne. It was noticed and popularized first due to its dual perspective and instability of the composition. The critics called it disjointed. This is because the left side of the still nature seems to be on a lower plain of the table, whereas the right side of it is noticeably higher. Also the elements of the composition seem to exhibit some movement, as the bottle is tilted, and the apples and cookies fall dynamically onto the crumpled tablecloth. Paintings like The Basket of Apples helped to build a bridge between the traditional nature of Impressionism and the modernity of Cubism.
3. Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley
When nearing the end of his artistic career, Cézanne began to slowly turn away from Post Impressionism to once again delve into the regular Impressionism. He claimed that he wanted to make classical pieces and Impressionism was the technique enabling him to do just that. Mont Sainte-Victoire appears on several landscapes made by the artist, such as: Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bellevue, in Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine, in Plain by Mont Sainte-Victoire, and in several pieces entitled plainly Mont Sainte-Victoire. The hill or small mountain itself towers over Cézanne’s hometown of Aix-en-Provence in the south of France.
4. The Card Players
The Card Players is another series of paintings. Cézanne seems to have taken to the topic of depicting Provencal peasants enjoying their spare time in a tavern, playing cards. Art historians suggest that the painter may have been inspired by the Le Nain piece, which was on display in the Aix-en-Provence museum. But, let’s not forget that depicting card players was also a popular theme in its own right, especially among the 17th-century Dutch and French masters. Cézanne, however, changed the convention a bit, making his scenes less rowdy and indulgent and more peaceful and matter-of-fact. Cézanne’s players are not drunkards, but rather aficionados of the game. The background of all the pictures has also been reduced to just a couple of elements, like a single bystander or a bottle of wine in the middle.
5. Portrait of Gustave Geffroy
Cézanne started painting Portrait of Gustave Geffroy in the year 1895. Gustave Geffroy was at that time a French novelist and art critic, who also happened to be one of the first experts on Impressionism. In March the same year, he wrote an article for Le Journal, in which he highly praised the artistic achievements of Paul Cézanne so far and Cézanne read it. Quite flattered by the test, he decided to meet with Gustave in person and paint his portrait as an act of gratitude. What started quite optimistically, quickly changed direction, though, and Cézanne wrote letters to his friend, Claude Monet, complaining about the lack of Geffroy’s contribution to the project. In the end, he left the project behind and returned to Aix-en-Provence. Today, the painting is unfinished but still receives critical acclaim.
6. Woman in a Green Hat (Madame Cézanne)
Cézanne, unlike some artists of his time period, was skilled at many areas of composition. His works ranged from still nature and nudes, to landscapes and portraits. For portraits, he always used real-life people, who posed for him while he observed them in great detail. This piece is a portrait of Cézanne’s wife. According to critics, she is a bit taken aback by the idea of posing, as gathered from her amused look, but also engaged in the endeavor, which we can see from the dynamic outline of her figure. What is also interesting, is that Cézanne employs quite a light style here, often using just one color for one element, not really emphasizing dimension and depth.
7. Chateau Noir
At one point of his career, Cézanne became hugely interested in an area near the Bibemus quarry. He painted both the quarry as well as a building known as Chateau Noir, which stands for “black manor”. The name probably referred to the previous color of the facade of the building. Cézanne began his explorations of the area in 1900, and was truly inspired by this particular landscape. He found motifs for his works in the setting of the trees or rock formations, surrounding both the quarry and the Chateau. Many paintings ensued. The painting in question depicts the ruins of the building emerging from the branchy pines in the foreground. Critics point to the use of dark hues in the piece, which add a certain dose of power to the scene.
8. Table, Napkin, and Fruit (A Corner of the Table)
Cézanne studied the accomplishments of Dutch and French old masters very carefully. This especially applied to still lifes. He could spent hours at Musée du Louvre and Paris galleries, trying to find his own way to make this subject matter work in his pieces. This painting, such as is characteristic of many similar, depicts an array of pears, peaches and other fruit scattered across the kitchen tabletop, which are again far from stationary. They seem to be touching the surface, but at the same time floating above it. Cézanne also adds a certain flair to the composition by introducing elements like wooden furniture, pitchers, bottles.
9. A Modern Olympia
This piece is Cézanne’s adaptation of the theme of the demi-mondaine. The term ‘demi-monde’ meaning “half-world” in French, refers to an artistic theme depicting a group of people living outside the strict social frames, living hedonistic lifestyles and engaging often in illicit activities. Édouard Manet painted a similar picture, where Olympia’s profession as a prostitute was quite pronounced, but Cézanne leaves the question open. The painting is very focused on portraying the curvature of the human body, as well as the abundant, picturesque surroundings, whereas the facial features of all three subjects are somewhat understated. Some art critics tend to perceive the seated suitor figure as a reflection of Cézanne’s fear towards women.
10. The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L’Estaque
This work surprises many in terms of the vibrant color palette which the artist has decided to choose. This is very rarely seen in Cézanne’s work, as he often applied more decisive hues to his compositions. The foreground is pretty much defined by the rectangular forms of the buildings, whereas the remaining part of the piece is filled with the blue shades of the sky and the sea. Cézanne also created a three-dimensional depth of the paining, by adding complimentary colors. Cézanne painted more views of L’Estaque than just this one. It was one of his favorite places on the southern French coast.