French master, Paul Cezanne is best known as a pioneer in the development of the Modernist movement of abstract painting. However, before he began challenging the conventions of art, he studied a variety of modes, eventually establishing the artistic philosophy that drove his later work. An example of Cezanne’s earliest efforts is a realistic portrait of his father. 1866’s “Portrait of the Artist’s Father” demonstrates Cezanne’s ability to capture the essence of a subject. Although his father’s image possesses a serious, uncompromising demeanor, it also reveals a faint, softness, allowing a glimpse into the conflict that all young people feel at the moment when they realize that the parents, which they have long admired and respected, are simply human beings, possessing human frailty. Painted by the artist when he was 20 years of age, this piece reflects Cezanne’s roots and foundation, from which his masterfully artistic voice would eventually emerge.
Having studied at College Bourbon, Cezanne became acquainted with artists, like Manet, Degas and Pissarro, who stoked his interest in Impressionism. The evolution of his style began with the heavy and impulsive use of oil paint, which he worked into layers, creating rich and textured images. He became focused on the ways that color could be manipulated to create perspective. One work, characteristic of his Impressionist period, is “House of the Hanged Man” from 1874. The stiff paint imitates the grainy texture of the subjects’ surfaces. The soft hues might seem accessible to the viewer. However, the tight composition of the houses creates conflict between the distant view and the unsettling lack of depth. Cezanne’s use of a steady, dispersed light challenged the Impressionists’ notion of the ephemeral effects of light.
Over the next few years, he became interested in developing a firmer structure for his paintings. Seeking to replicate nature, he reduced subjects to their most basic forms. Along with these geometric substitutions, Cezanne began using color to present an object’s basic essence. 1887’s “Mont Sainte-Victoire,” 1894’s “The House with Burst Walls” and 1905’s “Bathers” demonstrate this matured approach to his subjects. These late works illustrate his profound use of skewed, shifting perspectives, flattened, adjacent planes and subtle, transitioning tones. The tension between color and geometric forces provides energy to his paintings.
In his 1892 painting, “The Card Players,” his use of color gradations brings life to the card players, whose forms hover delicately between a flat plane and multiple perspectives. This figure composition demonstrates the artist’s continual attention to tone, color and geometry. As a highly respected French master, Cezanne’s work hangs throughout the world, in such settings as the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum, the Hermitage Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. By developing and following his own guidelines for approaching and demonstrating abstraction, Cezanne firmly set a foundation that continues to influence arts today.