Paul Cézanne, the Great Hermit Painter

Paul Cézanne, who lived in continuous creative isolation, is considered one of the greatest pioneers of modern art and painting. He has been seen as a genius both by the method of putting on canvas exactly what his eyes saw in nature, and by the qualities of the form he achieved through a unique deal with space and color.

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Paul Cézanne was a French painter whom many consider a pioneer of the open brushstrokes characteristic of post-impressionism. His work formed a bridge between the impressionism of the late nineteenth century and the new line of artistic research of the early twentieth century, cubism.

The domain of design, tone, composition and color that covers his work is very characteristic. His way of painting is unique and can be recognized easily throughout the world. Both Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were very influenced by Cézanne.

Childhood and youth

The famous painter Paul Cézanne was born on January 19, 1839 in Aix-en-Provence, France. Her mother seems to have been the main influence in her early years, for her vision towards life and art.

His father, Philippe Auguste, was the co-founder of a banking company that thrived throughout the life of the artist. This company gave the painter a financial security that was not usual at the time and that most of his contemporaries did not enjoy. At the end of his life, the family business would bequeath to the painter a great inheritance.

He attended primary school along with his younger sisters, Marie and Rose. Subsequently, he continued his studies at Saint Joseph School, in Aix.

In 1852, Paul Cézanne joined the Collège Bourbon, where he met and became friends with Émile Zola. This friendship was decisive for the two men: with the youthful romanticism, they imagined successful careers in the flourishing artistic industry of Paris: Cézanne as a painter and Zola as a writer.

Beginning of his career

Cézanne began studying painting and drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts de Aix in 1856, but his father opposed his artistic career. In 1858, his father convinced him to enter the law faculty of the University of Aix-en-Provence.

Cézanne continued his law studies for several years. However, he combined these studies simultaneously with the École des Beaux-Arts in Aix, where he remained until 1861.

In 1862, after a series of bitter family disputes, the aspiring artist received a small allowance and was sent to study art in Paris. He had planned to move with Zola.

He appeared before l’école des Beaux-Arts in Paris. However, your request was rejected. For that reason, he began his artistic studies at the Académie Suisse.

The circle of artists

The Académie Suisse was a studio in which young art students could work with live models for a very modest monthly fee. There, Cézanne met painters such as Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir.

His painting at this time was in a vein of rampant and rude romanticism. In his paintings of the time, Cézanne showed a predilection for themes such as violence and eroticism. A completely different style to his more mature works that would consecrate him as a painter.

All the young people of the Académie Suisse of the time were also artists with difficulties. Soon, they would be part of the founding members of the nascent impressionist movement.

Although Cézanne had been inspired by visits to the Louvre and, in particular, to study Diego Velázquez and Caravaggio, he doubted his vocation after five months in Paris. For this reason, he decided to return to Aix and enter the bank of his father, although he never left the art school.

In 1869, he met Hortense Fiquet, a model and seamstress, who became his mistress and subsequently gave him a son, Paul, born in 1872. Paul Cézanne kept them secret from his family; he was terrified by the reaction of his dominant father. Finally, he married Hortense in 1886, shortly before his father’s death.

In 1886, Cézanne fell out with Zola for what he interpreted as slightly disguised references to his own failures in one of the writer’s novels. As a result, he broke relations with his oldest supporter.

Cézanne in Aix, the years of greatest production

In the same year, he inherited his father’s wealth and, finally, at the age of 47, he acquired financial independence; but socially remained isolated. After the death of his father, he inherited the family farm ‘the Jas de Bouffan’.

“The world does not understand me and I do not understand the world, that’s why I’ve withdrawn from it.”

-Paul Cézanne-

The farm appears in many of his paintings and, from that moment, Cézanne lived mainly in Aix. He devoted himself mainly to some of his favorite subjects: portraits of his wife Hortense, still lifes and, above all, the landscape of the Province, especially Mount Sainte Victoire.

Cézanne was interested in the underlying structure. Thus, his paintings, rarely, give an obvious indication of the time of day or even of the season represented.

His later paintings are generally more composed and open, impregnated with a sensation of air and light. The third dimension is created through perspective or shortening, but through extraordinarily subtle variations of tonality.

In 1872, he settled in Auvers sur-Oise, near Pontoise, the home of Camille Pissarro. In this place, Cézanne initiated a long and fruitful association with Pissarro. In the last year of his life, he still described himself as a ‘pupil of Pissarro’.

The color and light in his paintings

Many of Cézanne’s early works were painted in dark tones applied with heavy pigments and fluids. In this way, he followed the wake of the romantic and capricious expressionism of previous generations.

Under the tutelage of Pissarro, and in a brief period of time between 1872-73, Cézanne changed from dark tones to brilliant tones. In addition, he began to focus on scenes of farmland and rural villages.

He exhibited with the Impressionists in 1874 and would do so again in 1877. However, Cézanne never identified with the Impressionist group nor fully adopted its objectives and techniques. Well, I was more interested in the structural analysis of nature.

He traveled a lonely and difficult path towards his goal of an art that did not superficially attract the eye, but the mind. This art would combine the best of the classical French structure tradition with the best of contemporary Realism.

His work was virtually unknown throughout his life. In 1895, Ambroise Vollard, an ambitious art dealer from Paris, organized a sample of Cézanne’s works, which were successfully promoted in later years.

By the time of his death, in 1906, Cézanne had achieved the status of a legendary figure.


Upon observing Cézanne’s late work, it is impossible to overlook the emergence of a unique artistic approach. Cézanne offered a new way of understanding the world through art.

“For an impressionist to paint from nature is not to paint the subject, but to make sensations.”

-Paul Cézanne-

With its reputation in constant evolution in the last years of its life, a growing number of young artists fell under the influence of its innovative vision. Among them, was the young Pablo Picasso.

Under the influence of Cézanne, Picasso would soon lead the western tradition of painting into a completely new and unprecedented new direction.

It was Cézanne who taught the new generation of artists to liberate the form of color in their art. Thus, they created a new and subjective pictorial reality, not simply a servile imitation.