I could paint for a hundred years, a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing. — Paul Cézanne (1839 — 1906)
Throughout his career, the Father of Modern Art faced repeated criticism. “Paul may have the genius of a great painter,” wrote Emile Zola (1840 — 1902), Cézanne’s childhood friend and accomplished novelist. “But he will never possess the genius to become one. He despairs at even the smallest obstacle.” Today, however, we know that Zola was wrong.
Cézanne developed an interest in art at an early age. Obsessed with painting, he thoroughly dedicated himself to studying forms, colors, and the diverse effects of light. But his father, a powerful and patronizing banker by the name of Louis-Auguste, did not approve of Cézanne’s interests and hoped his son would eventually work with him. When Zola left Aix-en-Provence for Paris in 1858, he pressured his friend to follow suit.
Instead, Cézanne chose to stay in Southern France and attend law school to appease his father’s wishes. “Is painting only a whim that took possession of you when you were bored one fine day?” Zola taunted his friend. “You lack strength of character. You shy away from any form of effort, mental or practical.” Two years later, however, Cézanne finally found the courage to stand up to his father and move to Paris.
He lasted just five months. Being around other artists, whose mastery and skill level were beyond what Cézanne expected, made him enter a deep depression. He returned to Aix and took a job at his father’s bank, though, a year later he decided to make another attempt at life in Paris. This proved to be immeasurably influential, since the 1860s turned out to be an incredibly progressive time for Paris-based writers and artists.
Cézanne’s rustic appearance and distrustful disposition, however, did not make it easy for him to find friends or fit in. According to Encyclopedia Britannica: “During this period Cézanne began to develop a style that was violent and dark; he painted scenes with harsh extremes of light and shadow and with a looseness and vigor that are remarkable for the time but that can be traced to the influence of Delacroix’s swirling compositions.”
The outbreak of the Franco-German War in 1870 forced him to relocate home with girlfriend (and future wife) Marie-Hortense, who birthed him a son in 1872. A short-while later, Cézanne and his family joined Camille Pissarro (1830 — 1903) in Auvers, France, where the two artists explored impressionist painting techniques, focusing on landscapes and still-life works. He returned to Paris in 1974 for a show alongside other impressionists.
“Although the paintings that Cézanne showed there and at the third show in 1877 were the most severely criticized of any works exhibited, he continued to work diligently, periodically going back to soak up the light of Provence…After his father’s death in 1886, Cézanne became financially independent.” Marie-Hortense and their son permanently moved to Paris in 1888, while Cézanne settled back in Aix.
After the passing of his mother in 1897, Paul Cézanne withdrew from the few relationships he had left, including one with Zola. His self-imposed isolation gave him the opportunity to produce some of his best-known masterpieces, but it also exasperated Cézanne's mental health problems. He died in Aix in 1906. “A 1907 retrospective showing of his works (56 paintings) was held at the Salon d’Automne in Paris and won considerable acclaim.”