Cézanne, Paul: Landscapes

Cézanne immortalized the Provençal countryside with his broad, panoramic views. Often these are framed in branches, sometimes with architectural elements, but seldom with human activity. These too are still lifes. Cézanne's landscapes were not painted in the open air, as were those of the Impressionists, nor were they captured first with a camera. He composed the pictures the way he wanted them -- arranging the trees and the houses, probably gleaned from his sketchbooks, on the canvas in the configurations he decided upon.

Cézanne understood that a painting could not really do its subject justice. He knew that colors in nature and their combination with natural light could never be truly reproduced. He saw himself as an interpreter who had to accept the limitations of the medium and tried to transfer the images onto canvas the best way he could. He attempted to bridge the natural and artistic worlds. Hence Cézanne's works, in comparison with the paintings of many other Impressionists, only make sense as a whole, not in snippets, as the brush strokes and colors are meant to be interdependent on one another. This is especially true for pictures painted in the latter part of his career, when he used color in short strokes or in almost mosaic patches, all of equal intensity, throughout an entire painting. In his striving for perfection, this meant retouching the entire picture to recreate the all-important harmony. No wonder he scared his sitters.

He sometimes worked on the same picture for years, never satisfied with the results. He seldom signed his works, because he never considered them finished. Those he did sign had his mark of approval.

During the last decade of his life, Cézanne's paintings became more simplified, the objects in his landscapes reduced to components -- cylinders, cones and spheres. He is often seen as anticipating cubist and abstract art, because he reduced the imperfect forms of nature to these essential shapes. By the time of his death in 1906, Picasso and Braque were in the midst of exploring the most radical implications of his style. Maybe the world has finally caught up with Cézanne. Complexity is more admired now than it was 100 years ago, and since his reputation precedes him, perhaps the exhibition at the Grand Palais will make his work more accessible to the average museum-goer.

© 30 Jan 1996, Nicolas Pioch - Top - Up - Info

Thanks to the BMW Foundation, the WebMuseum mirrors, partners and contributors for their support.