Six explanation why artist’s artist Paul Cézanne is hailed as ‘best of us all’ | Paul Cezanne

Paul Cézanne, born in 1839, who painted quietly as much as his dying in 1906, is the unrivalled fashionable artist’s fashionable artist, known as the “best of us all” by Claude Monet. Probably the most intimate proof of that is what number of of his successors have felt the necessity to transfer in on his patch – actually. When Picasso informed his seller Ambroise Vollard he had simply purchased “Cézanne’s mountain”, Vollard thought he meant one among his canvases of Mont Sainte-Victoire. In actual fact Picasso had bought an property on its slopes within the south of France.

Self-portrait by Paul Cézanne. Dated 19th century.
Self-portrait by Paul Cézanne. {Photograph}: Common Historical past Archive/Common Photos Group/Getty

The summary painter Sean Scully and his household now additionally “in reality dwell close to Mont Sainte-Victoire, in Aix-en-Provence”. For Scully, the mountain “stands as a silent sentinel that we see day by day. It’s monumental but extraordinarily delicate within the method during which it absorbs the sunshine of time and season.”

Monumental, but extraordinarily delicate – the identical may very well be mentioned of Cézanne’s towering presence within the historical past of contemporary artwork. Scully is a Twenty first-century artist who paints within the custom of Cézanne who discovered the summary in nature, with lengthy furrowed strains that recall ploughed fields.

However he’s in no way the one artist who nonetheless appears to be like to Cézanne, 80 of whose work go on present this week in a main exhibition at Tate Trendy. Within the catalogue a variety of latest artists from the Turner winner Lubaina Himid to the Belgian painter Luc Tuymans share their admiration. Cézanne outlined what fashionable artwork is earlier than anybody knew it existed, inspiring the likes of Picasso, Georges Braque, Matisse and Jasper Johns (a lender to the present).

Listed below are the six explanation why Cézanne is so admired:


For 500 years, western artists pictured the world stretching away in perspective, till Cézanne turned his desk upwards and shoved it in your face. His work are made from parallel planes of color, that may seem like a conventional perspective “view” from a distance, but change into a flat association up shut. This was a bomb within the heads of Picasso and Braque who, from about 1908, experimented with Cézanne’s implosion of house to provide cubism. In a cubist portray Cézanne’s planes get an extra mashing to make you see that actuality isn’t an image in any respect, it’s a mayhem we faux to make sense of.

Still Life with Fruit Dish, 1879-80.
Nonetheless Life with Fruit Dish, 1879-80. {Photograph}:


Cézanne modified artwork’s relationship with the bodily world. Earlier than he painted his apples, artists tried to seize a normal view of actuality during which each object is a part of an even bigger image. However Cézanne dwells like a fetishist on particular person issues that he grasps with a psychological fist. This twists the traditional style of the nonetheless life into one thing far more atomised and brutal. It led inside a couple of years of his dying to Marcel Duchamp inventing the “readymade”, asserting that an artist doesn’t have to color or sculpt however can merely “select” one thing, simply as Cézanne selected his items of fruit.


Picasso revolutionised artwork when he turned faces into masks – however he acquired this concept from Cézanne whose Bathers have faces seemingly hewn from wooden. Cézanne noticed them as masks, maybe as a result of he was socially distanced: even his spouse appears locked in a porcelain Japanese masks in his portraits. His self-portraits, too, see himself from outdoors; he was a stranger to himself. This sense of alienation could also be his largest fashionable concept. It helped form not simply artwork however twentieth century literature and philosophy in its sense of the remoted, imperilled, unstable self.

Bathers c.1894-1905.
‘He turned faces into masks’: Bathers c.1894-1905. {Photograph}: Tate


Cézanne was the godfather of modernism from the 1910s to Nineteen Fifties, however when it gave method to postmodernism he appeared to turn out to be a extra distant ancestor. But it’s astonishing how a lot his fractured view of actuality anticipated a TV and digital age of pixellated photographs, bytes of data, flickering screens. The digital artist Cory Arcangel and the pop artist Richard Hamilton are amongst those that have utilized a Cézanne-like imaginative and prescient to at the moment’s media. However our complete fragmented infosphere is already there in Cézanne’s 1902-6 portray of Mont Saint-Victoire from the Philadelphia Museum of Artwork with its crushed chunks of data pulsing in an electrical sky as dense and sophisticated as our lives.


Cézanne is the artist’s artist, in the identical approach that Einstein, who revealed the concept of particular relativity when Cézanne was nonetheless portray in 1905, is the physicist’s physicist: Cézanne took artwork right into a relativistic cosmos of uncertainty as he painted Mont Sainte-Victoire repeatedly, seeing it in radically other ways, as a result of even one thing as strong as a mountain is unattainable to utterly or lastly know. Monet, who outlived him, emulated this in his Nymphéas.

Seated man by Paul Cézanne, 1905-06
Seated man by Cézanne, 1905-06. {Photograph}: Museo Nacional Thyssen- Bornemisza, Madrid


Cézanne challenges writers to seek out phrases for his sheer quiddity. He went to high school in Aix with the novelist Zola, who would go on to painting a younger, unsuccessful – and unstable – Cézanne in The Masterpiece. When the actual Cézanne lastly received renown he was written about because the god of contemporary artwork by Roger Fry, Robert Hughes, the poet Rilke and extra – all rising to the unattainable, irresistible problem of placing these apples into phrases. The artwork historian TJ Clark says in his new e-book If These Apples Ought to Fall that after so many makes an attempt, Cézanne “can’t be written about any extra” – however he does simply that in a e-book that reveals how this nice artist continues to be stretching minds.

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