Paul Cezanne

Cézanne, Paul

Paul Cézanne (pōl sāzän´), 1839–1906, French painter, b. Aix-en-Provence. Cézanne was the leading figure in the revolution toward abstraction in modern painting.

Early Life and Work

From early childhood Cézanne was a close friend of Émile Zola, who for a time encouraged the painter in his work. Cézanne went to Paris in 1861; there he met Pissarro, who strongly influenced his development. He divided his time between Provence and the environs of Paris until his retirement to Aix in 1899. Cézanne's early work is marked by a heavy use of the palette knife, from which he created thickly textured and violently deformed shapes and scenes of a fantastic, dreamlike quality. Although these impulsive paintings exhibit few of the features of his later style, they anticipate the expressionist idiom of the 20th cent.

Through Pissarro, Cézanne came to know Manet and the impressionist painters (see impressionism). He was concerned, after 1870, with the use of color to create perspective, but the steady, diffused light in his works is utterly unrelated to the impressionist preoccupation with transitory light effects. House of the Hanged Man (1873–74; Louvre) is characteristic of his impressionist period. He exhibited at the group's show of 1874 but later diverged from the impressionist style and developed a firmer structure in his paintings.

Mature Work

Cézanne sought to "recreate nature" by simplifying forms to their basic geometric equivalents, utilizing contrasts of color and considerable distortion to express the essence of landscape (e.g., Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1885–87, Phillips Coll., Washington, D.C.), still lifes (e.g., The Kitchen Table, 1888–90, Louvre), and figural groupings (e.g., The Card Players, 1890–92; one version, S.C. Clark Coll., New York City). His portraits are vital studies of character, e.g., Madame Cézanne (c.1885; S. S. and V. White Coll., Ardmore, Pa.) and Ambroise Vollard (Musée du Petit Palais, Paris).

Cézanne developed a new type of spatial pattern. Instead of adhering to the traditional focalized system of perspective, he portrayed objects from shifting viewpoints. He created vibrating surface effects from the play of flat planes against one another and from the subtle transitions of tone and color. In all his work he revealed a reverence for the integrity and dignity of simple forms by rendering them with an almost classical structural stability. His Bathers (1898–1905; Philadelphia Mus. of Art) is the monumental embodiment of a number of Cézanne's visual systems.

The artist's later works are largely still lifes (among them his famous apples), male figures, and recurring landscape subjects. While retaining a solid substructure, they seem freer and more spontaneous and employ more transparent painterly effects than earlier works. Cézanne worked in oil, watercolor, and drawing media, often making several versions of his works.

Influence and Collections

Cézanne's influence on the course of modern art, particularly on the development of cubism, is enormous and profound. His theories spawned a whole new school of aesthetic criticism, especially in England, that has ranked him among the foremost French masters. There are fine collections of his paintings in the Louvre; the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; and the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.


See M. Doran et al., ed., Conversations with Cézanne (new ed. 2001); his letters, ed. by J. Rewald (tr. 1941) and ed. by A. Danchev (tr. 2013); his drawings, ed. by A. Chappuis (1973); his watercolors, ed. by T. Reff (1963); catalogues raisonnés by A. Chappuis (2 vol., tr. 1973) and J. Rewald (2 vol., 1997); biographies by J. Lindsay (1969), J. Rewald (new ed. 1986), and A. Danchev (2012); studies by M. Schapiro (2d ed. 1962), W. Andersen (1970), S. Geist (1988), R. Fry (new ed. 1989), and F. Cachin et al. (1996).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Paul Cezanne : Selected full-text books and articles

Paul Cezanne By Meyer Schapiro Harry N. Abrams, 1962 (2nd edition)
What's So Great about Cezanne? By Gopnik, Blake Newsweek, Vol. 157, No. 15, April 11, 2011
Cubism: A History and an Analysis, 1907-1944 By John Golding Faber and Faber, 1959
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Cezanne's influence begins on p. 63
Cezanne & Pissarro: A Crucial Friendship By Wilkin, Karen New Criterion, Vol. 24, No. 1, September 2005
Le Sang Provencal: Joachim Gasquet's Cezanne By Kear, Jonathan Journal of European Studies, June-September 2002
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Continuity and Change in Art: The Development of Modes of Representation By Sidney J. Blatt; Ethel S. Blatt Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1984
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Cezanne begins on p. 309
In France, Cezanne's Legacy Confronts High-Speed Rail By Collester, Jeanne Colette The Christian Science Monitor, June 16, 2009
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.