Gilles Chazal, director of the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris.
Scientific committee :
Denis Coutagne, chief heritage curator, president of the Paul Cézanne society.
Maryline Assante di Panzillo, curator of the painting department, Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris.
Although Cézanne (1839-1906) is usually associated with Provence, he cannot be confined to the south of France. He spent more than half of his time as a painter in Paris and its environs. He travelled between Aix en Provence and Paris over twenty times, although, of course, not for the same reasons when he was twenty as when he was sixty. When he was already an elderly man and still racked with doubts (“I am making slow progress,” he wrote at the end of his life) he painted in secluded spots on the banks of the Marne or near Fontainebleau, or made portraits of an art dealer or a critic and often his wife. He was no longer the young man eager to “conquer” Paris, wanting to be admitted to the fine art school and show his works in the Salon. In Paris, he came up against both tradition and modernity. He worked out “formulas” that he later used in Provence. He shuttled back and forth between Provence and the Ile de France although the rhythm of his journeys changed. After 1890, critics, art dealers, and collectors started to take an interest in his work. Cézanne longed for recognition which could only come from Paris. More than any other artist, he left his stamp on modern art: avant-garde artists from the postimpressionists to Kandinsky looked on him as a forerunner, “the father of us all” as Picasso said.
The exhibition of about 80 works is divided into five sections:
Following Zola to Paris
Encouraged and supported by Zola, a school friend from his days at the College Bourbon in Aix, who was already living in Paris, Cézanne defied his father and went to the capital, in 1861, to become an “artist.” He attended the Swiss Academy where he met and made friends with other painters such as Pissarro and Guillaumin. The Salon imposed the academic style at the time and Paris was a ferment of revolt and avant-garde thinking. During his formative years, Cézanne explored ancient and modern traditions: his sketchbooks record his attentive observation of the great masters in painting (Rembrandt, Poussin, Delacroix…) and antique, classical and baroque sculpture (copies of Michelangelo and Puget mainly). He also dabbled in Impressionism without really adhering to the movement. Although Paris was crucial to his development as a painter and he returned regularly to the capital until 1905, Cezanne seldom painted the city. And when he did, he did not choose its famous sites but the view from his window or over the rooftops. With one notable exception: the Rue des Saules. Cézanne set up his easel in a street near Montmartre, but it was deserted…
Paris, the City beyond the Walls, near Auvers
Once in Paris, Cézanne was restless (he lived at nearly twenty different addresses) and often left the city. Wanting to paint from nature, he worked on landscapes, learning from artists like Pissarro and Guillaumin, who were involved in the Impressionist movement. They wanted to further the landscape tradition developed by Courbet, Corot and the Barbizon artists, who sought to use the countryside around Paris to express a certain idea of Frenchness. Very quickly Cézanne emerged as a leader, making “Impressionism a solid, lasting thing like museum art.” The painting of Maincy Bridge is emblematic of his work in the 1880s.
The Temptation of Paris
Like Courbet and Renoir, Cézanne was preoccupied by the nude. He painted the Temptation of St Anthony between 1870 and 1877, probably after reading Flaubert. In those same years he produced many erotic paintings: Modern Olympia, Orgy, Struggle of Love… Later, the art dealer Vollard revealed that Cézanne was working on a large painting of “bathers” at the time he painted his portrait in 1899: he was no longer exploring the erotic aspects of the body but constructed a new way to express the nude and invented his own pictorial language.
Pose like an Apple. Still Lifes and Portraits
For Cézanne, a still life was a motif like any other. It was the equivalent of a human body or mountain, and lent itself particularly well to an investigation of space, the geometry of volumes, and the relationship between colour and form: “When the colours are really rich, the forms are fulsome,” he used to say. Nearly two hundred of his thousand known paintings are still lifes. Sometimes associated with erotic themes or portraits, they tell us as much about Paris as a landscape would. Among his portraits, often with wallpaper in the background, we find emblematic friends from his time in Paris: Victor Chocquet, his first collector, or Ambroise Vollard, “the” art dealer who organised his first exhibitions.
The Paths of Silence
After 1888, Cézanne stayed several times in the Paris region following an extended period in Provence (1882-1888). Although he spent a summer painting at Montgeroult, near Auvers, and visited Monet at Giverny in 1894, his favourite spots in the 1890s were the banks of the Marne in the vicinity of Maisons-Alfort and Créteil, and around Marlotte and Fontainebleau. He was enchanted by the river, enjoying its peaceful coolness and his canvases captured the “silence” of nature. In Paris, his palette settled into calm blues and greens while in Provence he worked on a symphony of golden colours around Mont Sainte-Victoire. Once he had won his place in the capital and mastered his craft, he withdrew permanently to his property in Provence to which he was increasingly attached.
Picture : Cézanne, Le Quartier du Four à Auvers-sur-Oise (détail), vers 1873, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphie, USA. The Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White Collection, 1967.
An exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg organised by the Rmn-Grand Palais, in collaboration with the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris. With special support from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.