An exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg until February 26th, 2012
What about walking around the “Jardin du Luxembourg”, a real hymn to nature in the very heart of Paris before visiting the exhibition dedicated to Cézanne and Paris, at rue de Vaugirard ? Since, in fact, the whole exhibition is about the painter’s attraction to nature.
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) is usually associated with Provence : he grew up there and the Provence landscape influenced much of his paintings. When he was an elderly man, he used to pacing up and down a path from “Aix” to “Le Tholonet” which later on was named “The Cézanne’s road”. One of the only roads considered as part of France’s patrimony. But in the end, one third of his work has arisen in Paris or Paris region.
This is where he decided to become a painter when he was 21, even if he shuttled back and forth between Provence and the Ile de France. After a period of uncertainty, critics, art dealers and collectors started to consider and take an interest in his work from 1890 onwards. He longed for such recognition which could only come from Paris.
The exhibition is built around the outstanding periods of his life. The very first part of it is dedicated to his move to Paris, encouraged and supported by Zola, in 1861, to become an artist. Then, he attended the Swiss Academy where he met other painters like Pissarro and Guillaumin. All his artworks are under the influence of great masters in painting like Rembrandt, Poussin, Delacroix but also inspired by antique, classical and baroque sculpture.
Loss of interest in the town-life
If the exhibition highlights the following paintings :
- “Rue des Saules”, representing Montmartre,
- “Les Toits de Paris”
nevertheless, he seldom painted Paris. For Cézanne, it was rather a place to be in order to make a name for oneself rather than a scenery to be painted.
The Parisian countryside
Once in Paris, Cézanne was restless and often left the city to go to Auvers-sur-Oise. To focus on nature with detailed precision, he worked on landscapes following the style of artists like Pissarro and Guillaumin who were both involved in the Impressionist movement. They wanted to perpetuate 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. Quickly, Cézanne emerged as a leader, making Impressionism a solid and longlasting thing. In the 1880’s, the “Pont de Maincy”’s painting is emblematic of this period.
However, his working is far different from the one of his Impressionist’s friends, since he was always looking for the oversimplification of details and often added a constructivism touch while drawing parallel diagonal lines. He was also keen on creating depth effects without necessarily using traditional perspective techniques.
Like Courbet and Renoir, Cézanne was preoccupied by the nude from 1865 onwards. During 10 years, he developped the production of many erotic paintings : Moderne Olympia, Orgie, Lutte d’amour. Sometimes, it gave him the opportunity to make a mockery out of Paris when drawing up a moral portrait of the capital, as for instance in “L’Eternel féminin” or “Le Veau d’or”. After having explored the erotic aspects of the body, he constructed a new way to express the nude and invented his own pictorial language working on a large serie of paintings of “bathers” in 1899.
Parisian still lifes
For Cézanne, a still life was, as the human body, subject to investigation of space, geometry of volumes and relationship between colour and form. “When the colours are really rich, the forms are fulsome” he used to say. Out of his thousand known paintings, nearly two hundred are still lifes. Sometimes associated with erotic themes or portraits, they tell us as much about Paris’ areas as a landscape would. Cézanne also painted a few portraits, among whom, his wife and emblematic friends but also his first collector or the art dealer who organized his first exhibitions.
The paths of silence
After 1888, Cézanne stayed several times in the Paris area following a long stay in Provence (1882-1888). But he often evaded society events to live in loneliness and to commune with nature. His favourite spots in the 1890’s were the banks of the Marne and places around Marlotte and Fontainebleau. Rivers brought him peace, coolness and serenity.
His canvases in which water is ubiquitous captured the “silence” of nature. A silence he found again when he withdrew permanently to his property in Provence, once he had won his place in the Capital. From Paris he would have kept in mind the image of what was his school : the museum of Le Louvre. One year before dying, he wrote “ Le louvre is an open book from which we learn how to read”.
Nathalia Bienvenu-Kapferer, October 2011
Translation : Sandrine Deméré Parot
Photo Credits : Réunion des Musées Nationaux
Ticket purchase available on : www.museeduluxembourg.fr
Open Mondays to Fridays
Address : 19 rue Vaugirard
Access : M° line : 4 (St Sulpice) or 10 (Mabillon) - Rer B : Luxembourg