January 19, 2011

Paul Cézanne : The Definitive and Complete Biography

Filed under: Our World — boomaga @ 4:58 am

Today is Paul Cézanne’s birthday. He’s really old and dead. Don’t bake him a cake – he can’t eat it, he’s dead. Plus, diabetic. Here’s more about him than you deserve to know:

Paul Cézanne was born on January 19, 1839 in Heille-y-eux in southern France. His father, Albért, was a barker in the local circus sideshow. There he ran a midway game where contestants paid 2 francs for three chances to knock over stacked bottles with a small veal medallion. Though the game was very profitable, his custom of eating the misfired cutlets soon led to quite a problem in finding pants in his size.

Paul’s mother was an educated woman, said to be literate in seven language, but had a habit of making every circumflex heart-shaped and so was not taken seriously when writing in French. She won her son’s affection by defending him from his father, who would fly into a tirade when his chronic indigestion was aggravating him. The tirade, of Italian marble, caused multiple contusions about Msr. Cézanne’s head and neck despite his safety helmet, and would eventually spell his dèmise.

Paul begun his classical education at the Collège Bourbon-Whiskey, and in 1858 he entered the art school of Universite de Haix. After two years, he convinced his father to allow him to leave Haix U. pursue a career in meteorology. He entered the Atelier Ouatte in Paris, but his thesis on sexual tension in cirrus clouds was rejected by the school and he returned to Haix.

He took a position at the carnival, at a novelty stand where, for just a few centimes, the struggling artist drew portraits in charcoal and markers-magique. This earliest period was known as “Ears Longa, Vitals Brevis”, characterized by subjects with disproportionately huge heads in profile, thatched to tiny bodies performing the patron’s favorite sport or hobby. Those pieces which are unmarred by polish sausage grease stains show the first glimmers of the inner turmoil which were to surface in Cézanne’s later years, and are extremely rare, though not especially in demand with serious collectors and in fact, can be found gracing the walls of the No Smoking suites of the La Quinta Inn in Cody, Wyoming.

Paul gave up, as all great artists must, and returned to Paris. Here he entered his Formatif period from 1867 to spring 1868, then again from autumn 1868 to 1871, after a summer stint as an Homme de Bon Humour. He fell under the influence of Napoleon the IIIrd’s Salon de Refusee [Trashy Hair Styling Shop]. This group of dandies and artistes rejected and were rejected by the followers of the academic formats (Romantic, Neoclassical, Adult Contemporary, Easy Listening, and Album-Oriented)

Cézanne took up with the “Depressionists”, a small, dirty band of rowdies with a particular predilection for a certain “M. Gottard’s Original Curative Laudanum Elixir”. Cézanne was rude, socially withdrawn, and moody, but was tolerated because his mustache was so immaculately trimmed and free of baguette crumbs. Artistically, he inspired the artists’ reassessment of representation of objects, holding that commonplace objects should no longer be painted in the usual sentimental style, though most outsiders would misinterpret these flashes of brilliance as inarticulate gurgling by a opiated lunatic who meticulously collected his own drool in a neat puddle on the table and snarled and barked like a dog if anyone attempted to wipe it up.

Courbet, already the toast of the art world, known to cavort with Cézanne and the Depressionists, was a favorite of the most important critics of the time though he was never formally charged by the authorities as the local civil law statutes could not clearly define illegal cavorting. Another Depressionist, Eugène Delacroix, whose compositions depended solely on color instead of line, was gaining recognition from the press, though not so much for his paintings as his ability to suck an empty wine bottle onto his unusually distended tongue and swing it back and forth until the bottle shattered against his forehead.

During this period Cézanne’s paintings exhibited a looseness and blatant disregard for anyone’s feelings. One critic wrote upon viewing Cézanne’s Les Twins-doublements:

In Cézanne’s work there is a certain aggressiveness, audacity, qu’est que on parle en anglais une «gall», which is so central to the character of a Frenchman, mais aussi une otre chose, a feverish whirlpool of dark emotions such as morbidity, eroticism, terror, violence, anarchy, and alcoholism. Cézanne was indeed remarkable for his time, that is to say, he is remarkable for his time, which is our time, as he is alive and we are alive at the same time and he is not dead yet; the state of his being being in a state of being, his bodily functions still functioning and his relentless breathing and signs of voluntary movement; all of this points to the conclusion Cézanne is not dead; therefore, he cannot yet be a great painter. Nevertheless, I liked it, and would recommend his paintings to all my friends who like good art. Three and a half etoilles.

In 1870, with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, he moved to Provence with his mistress to avoid being conscripted. Cézanne was not a coward, as many art biographers have postulated, but in fact was ashamed about his inability to march in formation without bobbing up and down and humming.

Putting the city life behind him, he began painting landscapes; he explored ways to depict nature faithfully while simultaneously expressing the feelings it inspired in him, primarily nasal congestion and dizziness. Through 1874 he painted with Camille Pissarro in Pontoise; the great Impressionist attempted to teach him the revolutionary techniques pioneered by Degas and Manet, such as the utilization of broken bits of color and short brush strokes, dissolving light into forms to express movement. Cézanne instead chose to experiment with cubic masses and structures, and simple but complementary chromatic structure. Many historians agree that it was at this point that the now household phrase was first coined: “My three-year old niece could draw this crap”.

Cézanne’s most famous painting from this period is “The Suicide’s Necessary House” (1872), a striking piece which depicts the agony of the toilet seat of the frigid soul on a chilly morning awakening. His works were shown at the First and Third Official Depressionist Exposition and Chili Cook-off in Paris, and the critics made short shrift, quick work, and a fast buck off of Paul Cézanne. In a letter to himself, dated December of 1877, he wrote of their reviews:

These scavengers call my work tuluent, contimbulistic, decressent, and poliforicious. Shame, cruel critics, where is your sense ? Their visages are collectively compatible with the deepest rift which bisects the middle course of the seat of my pants as a match is to a matchbox.

Cézanne, stung by this experience, withdrew from society altogether, and never returned to Paris, Marseilles, or Dodge City (where he had reached quite a level of celebrity despite the fact that he’d never been there and he’d probably have been shot if he had). He also broke his ties with other artists, and though he expressed a wistful admiration for the work of his friends and contemporaries, Monet and Renoir, Cézanne refused to speak to them after it was revealed that they had been behind the conspiracy to have his thermal underwear bronzed.

His father kicked the bouquet in 1886, and Paul finally married Marie-Hortense Fucquette and settled in Heuxouilles. It was during this time that Cézanne came into his “Mature” period, which lasted only two years, and that’s a fact that you can look up. L’estaque des Jaques flappes (c. 1888), considered his first masterpiece, was painted entirely with different flavors of table syrup. That was quickly followed by ten variations of Mont Sainte-Victoire/Victoria, three of Boy in a Red Waist-Coast and one of Devil in a Blue Dress, and The Master Bathers.

Becoming more and more reclusive, he attempted to achieve self-sufficiency by growing his own parsley in a window box. But the more he withdrew, the harder the public looked for him, and the press beat a path to his door. Critics would sneak into his studio to catch a glimpse of his latest oeuvre, but more often found him huddled inside what he called his “magic fort”, which he built out of couch cushions. Ironically, the fame and wealth he had always desired came for him at an age where he was too old to take advantage of it, but could still be accused of “selling out” by the young artists who imitated him.

Paul Cézanne had survived several debilitating diseases over the years, but it was while working in the fields that he caught the infamous chill which would end his life. On October 22, 1906, just after breakfast, he sneezed violently, and unfortunately several large wads of phlegm landed on the suede vest of a short-tempered Bohemian itinerant farmer. Paul sought to frame the piece and title it Ça n’est pas un pipe, c’est ma femme, but the farmer refused to surrender the vest. An altercation ensued, and in the confusion of the fracas Cézanne’s precious mustache was irreparably torn from his face. It is said that he died of a broken heart, and his last words reflecting his despair :

“Future generations will weep, as no one living now can understand the depth of my tragedy. The symmetry and the shape took me years to perfect… Il’n-y-a pas de justice… Ma travaille, tout le monde de ça est merde…

A one man show about Paul Cézanne closed on London’s West End in 1995 after two blocking sessions and a catered brunch.


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