• gerard van weyenbergh

Cezanne reinvents the art of painting

For you, Cezanne's works are just old Provençal apples? Inspired by Italian classics, they are nevertheless resolutely modern and have inspired the avant-garde. Here is why, while the Marmottan Monet Museum is devoting an exhibition to the painter.

For Picasso, Matisse, or Mondrian, Cezanne is the father of modern painting.

Paul Cézanne (1839 - 1906)

Marianne Mathieu, art historian, curator of the exhibition, and scientific director of the Musée Marmottan Monet, explains the pivot that Cezanne represented in the history of art:

"It is not what Cezanne represents that is important is the way he represents it. It is this painter's gesture. He is genuinely modern in that he belongs to this family of artists who see in the painting, in the gesture, alpha and the omega of his work. "

All his life marginalized, even among the Impressionists, considered provocative, scandalous, Paul Cezanne was over 50 when his talent is finally recognized. He will be even more so after his death in 1906, venerated by the avant-garde and the greatest thinkers, who draw on his work: Rilke , Merleau-Ponty , Virginia Woolf , DH Lawrence …

Radical, demanding, skittish

His father, however, intended him for a career as a banker. But Paul, sure of his vocation, deserted his rights and struggled to devote himself to the only activity that made him happy: painting. His touchy, anguished character focuses on the contemplation of nature to capture it in a painting. "I see the young Paul Cezanne, who became my friend, well who was my very great friend. I remember Cezanne in his studio. What struck me was the bushy side of his face. It seemed that there were only hairs, a bit like a barbet dog," remembers Jean Renoir in a 1959 archive.

Keen on classical culture, reading Virgil or Lucretia in Latin, Cézanne inspired by Italian masters - Tintoretto, Greco, Titian to invent his style better. He forgets their biblical or mythological subjects to retain only their compositions, the force of the tragic, the organic knots, the very material of the painting.

"I always strive to find my pictorial way," said Cezanne to his childhood friend, Zola, 1879

Rigorous, austere, he does not hesitate to destroy the paintings with which he is not satisfied. Marianne Mathieu explains: "Cezanne is an artist who is not a pure intellectual, he is someone who is a creator, a craftsman, and who therefore needs the material to create. And what Cézanne is going to do is explore all the potential resources that painting offers to restore the vision he has of the world. It is a common thread from his first work to his final work. "

The painter sculptor

Copying the sculptures of the Louvre, Cezanne develops a volume painting technique, focused on modeling, the impression of touch. He paints as he would sculpt. Marianne Mathieu: "Cezanne is not someone who will start by drawing, who will then apply a diagram on his canvas and then apply the paint. On the contrary, he acts in one go. And with the stroke of the brush, in an extremely vigorous way, he will suggest at the same time the form, the color, the tones, the shadows, and the lights. It is a global vision. Cezanne is someone who will sculpt the painting, who will work as a modeler. This relationship to matter is precisely this relationship to painting that he will develop, which will lead him to create a constructed work, even if the term is abusive, which will visually mark the Cubists, for example. The painting is very rich, very thick. We can see the brushstroke. That brushstroke, gray, I don't say to myself, "Hey, that's just giving me a chromatic indication. It tells me other things. It participates in the balance of the composition; it participates in the construction of the shots. It gives me lots of information at the same time. And this is where Cézanne builds his painting with brushstrokes. And his approach will not vary. Through this brushstroke, he tells us everything: depth, color, tone, that he will produce in an artwork.

There is nothing anecdotal, nothing rhetorical about him, but raw, thick, physical emotion.

Cezanne asks his models to become "like an apple", he does not seek to paint the soul, but a presence, even the presence of the air, which moves and vibrates in the canvas. Radical, telluric, scrupulous colorist, Cézanne says everything with the tip of his brush.

"If we approach [the Sainte-Victoire Mountain] and look, we see the extremely vibrant, pregnant way he applies the colour."

Cézanne does not paint landscapes, but the creation of the world, timeless, searching for a primitive, organic contact.

"I owe you the truth in painting, and I will tell it to you." wrote Paul Cezanne in 1905, a few months before his death.


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