In January 2023, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the captivating world of Paul Cezanne's art at the Tate Modern in London, taking along my other half - himself an artist too. The exhibition, whilst very busy, provided a fascinating journey through the life and works of this visionary artist, tracing his evolution from his early years to his later experiments with interpretation and the influences of other prominent artists of his time. Here, I explore some of the paintings I was able to look at, dividing them into four categories.
Early Works - A Glimpse into Cezanne's Formative Years
The Tate Modern exhibition started with a collection of Cezanne's early works, showcasing his artistic development and the seeds of his future style. His paintings from this period revealed his interest in capturing realistic scenes, often depicting landscapes and portraits with a conventional approach. One prominent example was his renowned artwork, "The House of the Hanged Man," which demonstrated his early mastery of light and shadow.
Cezanne's father was keen for his son to follow in family footsteps and become a lawyer, but Law school didn't suit Cezanne and, with the encouragement of his friend Emile Zola, he eventually left Aix en Provence where he lived, and went to study Art in Paris. From the late 1850s to mid 1860s, Cezanne alternated between life in the creative hot pot that Paris had become, and Aix, a more provincial town.
In Paris artists such Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas and Manet all developing their unique styles - dubbed Impressionist, but not in a very positive way - were being refused permission to exhibit their works with such regularity that a Salon des Refuses was created to show their works to the public.
Cezanne and Pissarro - A Fruitful Friendship
Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissarro, formed a firm friendship, and their frequent collaborations and artistic exchange significantly impacted both their styles. Visitors at this Cezanne exhibition were treated to a mesmerizing display of their joint works, where they explored various outdoor settings and the play of light on the landscapes. The juxtaposition of Cezanne's "The Banks of the Marne" alongside Pissarro's "Boulevard Montmartre, Spring Morning" highlighted the duo's shared passion for naturalistic depiction while hinting at the distinct directions they would later take in their art.
Cezanne's Southern Sojourn - Discovering the Light of Provence
One of the highlights of the exhibition was the section dedicated to Cezanne's paintings from his time in the south of France, particularly in the picturesque region of Provence. This period proved transformative for the artist, as he became enamored with the abundant sunlight and vibrant colors of the region. His works from this time showcased a departure from conventional representation, with a more abstract and experimental approach to form and color. Notable examples included "Mont Sainte-Victoire" and "The Card Players," both of which exemplified his revolutionary exploration of spatial depth and composition.
A Passion for Interpreting Fruit - Cezanne and the Still Life
Another section of the exhibition celebrated Cezanne's fascination with still life, particularly his obsession with interpreting fruit. This aspect of his work demonstrated his unyielding dedication to perfecting composition and perspective. His series of paintings featuring apples, pears, and other fruits showcased his tireless pursuit of capturing the essence of objects and the interplay of light on their surfaces. Visitors were able to witness how these seemingly simple subjects were transformed into complex and visually engaging compositions through Cezanne's meticulous brushwork.
Cezanne's Influence on Cubism - A Glimpse into Modernism
The concluding part of the exhibition shed light on Cezanne's profound influence on the emergence of Cubism, a revolutionary art movement that would redefine the course of modern art. Artists like Picasso and Braque were deeply inspired by Cezanne's groundbreaking approach to breaking down forms into geometric shapes and multiple viewpoints. Paintings like "The Large Bathers" showcased Cezanne's early explorations into the realm of Cubism, leaving a lasting legacy that resonated throughout the 20th century.
The Cezanne exhibition at the Tate Modern offered an insightful journey into the life and works of a trailblazing artist whose impact on the art world cannot be overstated. From his early realistic depictions to his revolutionary approach to form and light, and his lasting influence on modern art, Cezanne's art continues to captivate and inspire audiences worldwide. The exhibition was a testament to the enduring significance of Cezanne's artistic legacy and the boundless creativity of a true master.