Paul Cezanne Bio

Paul Cezanne, French (1839 - 1906)

Paul Cézanne was one of the most important figures in the development of modern painting, in particular abstract art and cubism, a style of painting in which geometric shapes are used.

Paul Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence, France, on January 19, 1839. His father, Philippe Auguste, was the cofounder of a successful banking firm, which afforded Cézanne financial security that was unavailable to most of his fellow artists. In 1852 Cézanne entered the Collège Bourbon, where he met and became friends with Émile Zola. This friendship was important for both men: with youthful spirit they dreamed of successful careers in the Paris art world, Cézanne as a painter and Zola as a writer. Consequently, Cézanne began to study painting and drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Design) in Aix in 1856. His father was against the pursuit of an artistic career, and in 1858 he persuaded Cézanne to enter law school at the University of Aix. Although Cézanne continued his law studies for several years, at the same time he was enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts in Aix, where he remained until 1861.

In 1861 Cézanne finally convinced his father to allow him to go to Paris, France. He planned to join Zola there and to enroll in the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but his application was rejected. Although he had gained inspiration from visits to the famous art museum, the Louvre, particularly from studying the painters Diego Velázquez and Caravaggio, Cézanne experienced self-doubt and returned to Aix within the year. He entered his father's banking house but was bored with the work. At the same time he continued to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Aix.

The remainder of the decade was a period of uncertainty for Cézanne. He returned to Paris in 1862 and stayed for a year and a half. During this period he met Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, and he became familiar with the revolutionary work of Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet. But he was never entirely comfortable with Parisian life and occasionally returned to Aix, where he could work and be alone.

Cézanne's paintings from the 1860s are odd and bear little resemblance to the artist's mature and more important style. The subject matter is dark and depressing and includes fantasies, dreams, religious images, and a general theme concerned with death. A fascinating aspect of Cézanne's style in the 1860s is its sense of energy. Each piece seems the work of an artist who could be either a madman or genius. That Cézanne would evolve into the latter, however, can in no way be known from these earlier examples. Although Cézanne received encouragement from Pissarro and other artists during the 1860s and enjoyed the occasional critical backing of his friend Zola, his pictures were consistently rejected by the annual salons (art exhibitions in France) and earned him harsh criticism.


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