Cézanne had progressed all his life toward this geometric simplicity, but he expressed it in words for the first time only two years before his death. During his visit to Aix in 1904, Émile Bernard recalled that Cézanne complained of the modern school of painting, declaring: “One should first study the geometric forms: the cone, the cube, the cylinder, and the sphere.”
Cézanne never painted spheres, cones and cylinders; he preferred oranges, apples, peaches or onions. Still life was for him the ideal genre: fruit and objects were patient, and they did not change. It was possible to paint them for a long time, for days, weeks and even months.
In Cézanne’s portraits expression gave way more often than not to normalised forms, subject to the laws of geometry. Brush strokes emphasised the roundness of his own head in his self-portraits or in the classical face of his wife. Those close to Cézanne said that Hortense was the perfect Cézanne model – very patient, she endured a multitude of sittings. And Cézanne painted her many times, never trying to find a new interesting angle, but improving his ability to build a form with the help of pure colour. In the last years of his life, Cézanne often painted one of his neighbours – a farmer or his gardener. It is difficult to call their pictures portraits. Cézanne had his model sit in a comfortable, steady pose and set about arranging colours to form the torso, hands and head. Human figure became a sort of still life; they were motionless, like objects.
After the expressive compositions of 1869, pictures appeared which were devoid of both subject and emotion. In Pierrot and Harlequin (Shrove Tuesday) (p. 38) he depicted the characters of the Commedia dell’Arte, reminiscent of eighteenth century dandies and the paintings of Watteau. Contemporaries said that Paul Cézanne the younger had posed for Harlequin, and one of his friends for Pierrot.
After his experience of Impressionism, Cézanne was unable to work without colour. Colour is the basis of everything in his compositions, both the construction of the picture and the shape of the subject. Numerous canvases with bathers allowed Cézanne to experiment with the classical composition of naked models. The Card Players (p.43) represents an ideally balanced, almost symmetrical composition in which the human figures become objects like the bottle standing on the table. The precise and well-organized system upon which Cézanne based his paintings shocked people after the seemingly disorganised Impressionism. And it was just this system which allowed the next generation of artists to learn a good deal from Cézanne’s paintings which they discovered during the exhibition of 1906.
Among all the people Cézanne met at the beginning of the twentieth century were two Nabis artists: the theoretician of this group, Maurice Denis, and his friend, Ker Xavier Roussel. During a trip to Provence they visited Cézanne in Aix. Another young artist, Charles Camoin, also called on Cézanne. It was with these young artists of the future that Cézanne became aware of the role he played in painting and he tried to understand the animosity of his contemporaries.
He wrote to one of his young friends: “I am perhaps before my time. I was the painter of your generation, more than of mine.” There was not much time left to demonstrate the truth of this. During the 1906 Spring Salon, in the part where nobody in principle was part of the official exhibition, an exhibition of the recluse from Aix was already being prepared.
Cézanne, meanwhile, had been continuing to work with his former perseverance. The letters of his last autumn reflect the drama of the artist’s life. He wrote to Bernard on September 21, 1906. “…I am old and sick, and I have sworn to die painting rather than sink into shameful decrepitude, which threatens the old who let themselves be dominated by soul-destroying passions.”
Cézanne wrote on October 15, 1906: “Dear Paul, it rained Saturday and Sunday, there were storms and the weather has cooled. It is no longer hot at all… It is still difficult to work, but at last, there is some relief.” On that day, Cézanne, as always, got up early to go and paint his favourite motif – Mont Sainte-Victoire. He refused to take a coach and carried all his equipment himself. When a thunderstorm struck, he continued to paint, hoping that the weather would improve. Soaked and tired, he collapsed on the way home. A coachman picked up Cézanne and took him from a laundry to his home.
Over the next few days he tried to work, although his health was deteriorating. Cézanne died on October 22, 1906, from pneumonia, failing to live long enough to see the opening of his triumphal exhibition at the Salon d’Automne. Some of Cézanne’s biographers said that it was his favourite mountain that killed him.
It is well known that, while discussing Manet’s Olympia, with a friend of the Impressionists, Doctor Gachet, Cézanne declared, “I can also do something similar to Olympia.” Gachet replied: “Well, do it.” So his canvas could be perceived as a kind of parody of Manet’s painting; there are many common components: the black-skinned servant as well as the flowers. It is, however, a protest aimed at the respected master; yet another of Cézanne’s arguments in his constant battle against Impressionism and against Manet. In comparison to Manet’s cold, elegant, model Victorine Meurent, Cézanne’s Olympia, curled into a ball in a ray of dazzling light, embodies a bundle of passions and, very likely, his personal drama. And the artist himself, enveloped in the smoke of a water pipe, contemplates her, like a spectator would the actress on the stage. Nevertheless, it was through the scandal caused by A Modern Olympia during the first exhibition of the Impressionists that Cézanne first became famous.
He displayed there a number of canvases, but one of the most important critics of that time wrote that it was impossible to imagine a jury that would agree to accept Cézanne’s works. A comparatively liberal female journalist, hiding behind the pseudonym Marc de Montifaud, called A Modern Olympia the work of a mad man suffering from delirium tremens; a picture in which “a nightmare is represented as a sensual vision.” The opinions on Cézanne’s painting did not seem so awful against the overall background of criticism. The exhibition brought gratification, too; the collector Count Doria bought a landscape entitled The House of the Hanged Man (p. 32), which was called an “appalling daub” in Leroy’s celebrated article.
However, after all these insults and derision, Cézanne retreated to Aix leaving Hortense and her son, the young Paul, who was born in 1872, in Paris.
During the third exhibition of the Impressionists in 1877, Cézanne was honoured with special attention of the Charivari critic Louis Leroy, who singled him out as the target of his most subtle insults. Paul exhibited canvases typical of the genres he preferred at that time: landscapes, portraits, some still lifes and bathers. Toward the end of the 1870s, bathers became the symbol of his figurative compositions. Cézanne’s work featured less and less narrative pictures, preferring more and more objects and motifs.
At the end of the 1870s and the beginning of the 1880s, Cézanne lived much of the time in Paris and worked in the area, in Melun or Médan-sur-Seine, at Zola’s. Thus he sometimes painted the banks of the Oise, the Auvers or the Pontoise where Pissarro lived. He could be sometimes seen in Normandy. Needless to say Cézanne regularly returned to his native Provence, as he was too attached to his roots. His principal difficulty at this time was his relationship with his family and the need to hide from his father the existence of his son and Hortense whom he could not resolve to marry. Despite all his contrivances, his father eventually found out about the grandchild’s existence.
The year 1886 was an extraordinary one in Cézanne’s life. The publication of Zola’s L’OEuvre was a shock to all the artists of the Impressionists’ circle. The publication of L’OEuvre meant for Cézanne the end of a lifelong friendship with Zola.
The character of Claude Lantier in L’OEuvre a failure who did not succeed in realising his ambitions, deeply annoyed him. On April 4, 1886, Cézanne wrote to Zola to thank him for the book, which he had not yet had the time to read. This was the last letter they sent each other. Zola’s novel was one of the reasons for Cézanne’s fleeing Paris. He was afraid that all his acquaintances would see in him the hero of L’OEuvre.
On the other hand, the problems of Cézanne’s family life solved themselves one after the other that year. In the spring of 1886, on the advice of his mother and sister Marie, Cézanne officially married Hortense at the Aix town hall. His son, Paul, was fourteen years old, and the matrimonial relations between him and Hortense were, in fact, dead. In October, at the age of eighty-eight, Louis-Auguste Cézanne died, and Paul inherited from him nearly 400,000 francs. The artist was thus able to settle all his debts and no longer needed to worry about his livelihood. Painting remained the only thing in his life.
Cézanne henceforth worked most of his time in Aix, rarely going to Paris. He refused to be exhibited, even with the Independents, where there was no jury. Gradually his circle of contacts became extremely narrow, the Paris of the arts almost forgot the strange Provençal.
In 1895, the art dealer Ambroise Vollard, recently established in Paris, decided on a risky experiment: he resolved to organise an exhibition of Cézanne’s works in his gallery at 39, rue Lafitte. Cézanne agreed to the exhibition and sent Vollard nearly 150 rolled pictures from Aix. They were paintings from all the periods of his work. The large number of works was an expression of his appreciation for the recognition that he no longer expected from his contemporaries. Cézanne was right to trust Vollard although the task was difficult for the latter. For the first time the Vollard exhibition allowed Cézanne to demonstrate the path along which he had travelled and the results he had achieved. The Impressionists rejoiced. Camille Pissarro wrote to his son Lucien: “My admiration is nothing compared to Renoir’s delight. Even Degas fell under the spell of this refined barbarian. Monet too, and all of us…really, could we have been mistaken? I don’t think so.” The critics, on the whole, were horrified. However, the editor of the magazine Revue blanche, Thadée Nathanson, wrote that Cézanne was an original and obstinate creator. The critic appreciated the fact that Cézanne concentrated on one single aim and that he knowingly pursued it. He said, shortly before his
death: “I wanted to make of Impressionism something solid and lasting like the art found in museums.”
Cézanne demonstrated the conversion of Impressionism into “something solid and lasting” most of all in his landscapes. It seemed that he was not able to admire nature directly and could not experience the full vibration of colours. He had to organise it and construct his own landscape. He felt like an architect of nature. His affection for nature was completely natural and immutable. When he lived in Provence, he used the motif every day, like an obligation.
When he lived near the Mediterranean, he created yet another type of landscape. While working on a landscape at the seashore, in L’Estaque, he wrote Pissarro: “It is like a playing card. Red roofs on a blue sea… There are motifs which would require three or four months of work, could one find it, for there the vegetation never changes. There are olive trees and pines which never lose their leaves.” The result is a canvas made up of several touches of well defined colours which represent the quintessence of the south: the blue sea, red roofs and the green trees.
He also often painted his favourite mountain, Mont Sainte-Victoire, from a high viewpoint. The valley spreads out at his feet, sprinkled with squares and circles representing houses and trees. The mountain’s cone encloses the picture. He removed everything unnecessary from the landscape, using only clear geometric forms to compose it. Nevertheless nature does not lose its poetic aspect that Cézanne had already felt in his childhood.
When Cézanne was painting with his friends – the Impressionists – the difference between their works was striking. The motifs of his landscapes are those same banks of the Seine which Claude Monet, Sisley and Pissarro painted. Monet fragmented the colours of the trees and their reflections in the water into a multitude of minute flecks of pure colour, achieving impressions of movement and his colours radiated the sunlight. Cézanne, on the contrary, selected a single, conventional, sufficiently dark greenish blue with which he painted both the water and the bank of the Marne. He needed colour only to extrapolate volume. The effect proved to be directly the opposite of the impressionistic: the smooth river was absolutely still and not a single leaf fluttered on the trees, which stood out on the canvas like dense rounded masses.
However, it was impossible to reproach Cézanne for negligence with ‘plein air’ – he had been working and shaping his art along with the Impressionists. The same as they, he even imparted huge significance to the observation of nature.
Cézanne thought that one of the most difficult tasks for an artist was to know how to see in nature what an ordinary, unsophisticated observer was in no condition to see, not only the object itself, but the environment almost imperceptible by the human eye.
Indeed, in Cézanne’s opinion, the painter is supposed to catch in the life around him not a momentary transient impression; its theme is nature eternal and unchanging, such as it was created by God.
This constitutes Cézanne’s second thesis. The rough nature of the Impressionists’ pictures was unsuitable for the resolution of this task. Their composition did not seem to have been thought out earlier, and they bore in themselves the reflection of that very same chance of impression to which they aspired.
Cézanne constructed all of his own canvases, whether a landscape, a still life or a figurative picture, according to the rules of classical composition. Any fragment of nature was for Cézanne the embodiment of the world’s eternity, the most intimate motif became a cause for the creation of a monumental painting.
His Great Pine near Aix (p. 53), the favourite pine tree of his happy childhood, shows an impressionistic joy of life. The floating, blurred splotches of colour in the background create a sensation of heated air. However, the picture was constructed according to a strict geometric scheme: the trunk of the pine became the core of the composition, the spreading branches made up its frame. The green of the crown combined with the blue of the sky and the gold of the sunlight embody the colour basis of the world’s beauty. Each of Cézanne’s landscapes approaches his ideal, according to his own words, “We must become classic again through nature.”
However, observation of nature, for Cézanne, was only a part of the process for creating a painting. “Imagine Poussin completely reconstructed from nature, that’s what I mean by classic,” he said.
Cézanne often painted outdoors in Provence. Sometimes artist friends called on him, and they worked together. Simultaneously, he worked on sketches in his studio in Jas de Bouffan, not one of which has been preserved. It is possible that Cézanne, who as before had been dissatisfied with himself, destroyed them. His father still hoped that Paul would give up painting, and he threw every obstacle in his way, and Paul was reduced to despair. “I am here with my family,” Nonetheless, his father continued to support Paul with money. Paul’s mother and sisters, judging by his letters from Aix, modelled for him more than once. In the 1860s, Paul created in Jas de Bouffan one of his best paintings, which was dedicated to Wagner – Girl at the Piano. (The Ouverture to Tannhäuser) (p. 26-27).
Cézanne portrayed one of his sisters playing the piano, and his mother, or another sister, sitting on a divan with needlework in her hands. In essence, it would have been possible to ascribe this painting to genre painting; however, there is no development of the subject in it; as Édouard Manet, and as all his impressionist friends, Cézanne was against literature in his painting. Cézanne had created a monumental picture based on an everyday motif. The composition had been constructed according to the best classical standards. A specific area of the room was confined from two sides as side scenes: the piano and an armchair in the shape of the letter ‘L’. The limit of the divan’s back forms a vertical axis in the centre. The figures of the women are at an equal distance from the axis. Movement is completely absent in the picture, the characters are frozen, like mannequins. In the painting of the impressionist Renoir, white clothing vibrated with a multitude of blue, green and rose hues. Cézanne paints his sister’s dress with huge strokes of pure whites; colour is completely absent in the grey shadows.
The extrapolation in Cézanne’s painting gradually became bolder, the strokes, coarser. Changes of colour were of no interest to him; he was communicating those qualities of the subject that are permanent: volume and form.
In the middle of the 1860s, Cézanne did a great deal of portraits in Aix. He attempted to paint outdoors the friends of his youth, Antoine Marion and Antonin Valabrègue – who later became an art critic. Dominic, his grandfather sat for Cézanne many times. Playing on his name, Paul portrayed Dominic as a Dominican monk, in a white monk’s habit. He painted forcefully, often applying colour with a palette knife, dividing colours with a black outline, exploring different means of expression.
At the same time, the portrait of Louis-Auguste Cézanne, the artist’s father, was painted reading the newspaper L’Évènement. The figure of his father possesses those characteristic features which make him meaningful. However, reproducing the volume, which mattered to him very much, was provided by a style of painting he had discovered (p. 29).
The portrait of Achille Emperaire (p. 28) was also painted in the 1860s. This strange character was also one of Cézanne’s close friends. Emperaire was fascinated with art and loved painting. In Paris he and Cézanne walked around the Louvre, admiring Rubens and the Venetians. Cézanne painted Achille’s portrait in Aix. He depicted his model in a dressing gown and sat him in the same armchair in which he had painted his father.
At the end of the 1860s, Cézanne was in a state of agonising quests. On the one hand, he was full of respect for the masters of the past, for the classics. At the same time, he was convinced that their way was not suitable for him; outdoors, and only the outdoors, is exactly what an artist of his time needs. His conversation with Pissarro convinced him to a great extent. He states in a letter to Zola, “But, you see! All indoors, studio painting will never match those done outdoors”. He painted views of the Aix vicinity, the valley with the aqueduct and Mont Sainte-Victoire, usually from a height, from which they had viewed the landscape during their childhood outings. He once more offered his landscapes, portraits and nudes for the Salon jury’s verdict, and once more they did not accept them.
The events of the Paris Commune and the Franco-Prussian War did not find any appreciable reflection in Cézanne’s works and life.
Many meaningful events occurred for him during these years of his life. He had very likely met Marie-Hortense Fiquet as early as 1869. The beautiful brunette with a classical face had shown up at Cézanne’s studio as a model.
Life with Hortense brought Paul new difficulties; he had to conceal her existence from his father because he was able to deprive Paul of his cash allowance.
Simultaneously, he painted a picture with bathers, Pastoral (Idyll) (p. 30), and a harsh, violent composition under the name of The Murder. Magdalene or Grief, suffering, full of passion and painted in a sharp expressive stroke, belongs to this same series of pictures.
These pictures can be called narrative only in relation to the others. They were most likely his reflection on life, an outlet for his own passions and in a way a tribute to Symbolism. A Modern Olympia (p. 34) was the conclusion of this cycle.
It is well known that, while discussing Manet’s Olympia, with a friend of the Impressionists, Doctor Gachet, Cézanne declared, “I can also do something similar to Olympia.” Gachet replied: “Well, do it.” So his canvas could be perceived as a kind of parody of Manet’s painting; there are many common components: the black-skinned servant as well as the flowers. It is, however, a protest aimed at the respected master; yet another of Cézanne’s arguments in his constant battle against Impressionism and against Manet. In comparison to Manet’s cold, elegant, model Victorine Meurent, Cézanne’s Olympia, curled into a ball in a ray of dazzling light, embodies a bundle of passions and, very likely, his personal drama. And the artist himself, enveloped in the smoke of a water pipe, contemplates her, like a spectator would the actress on the stage. Nevertheless, it was through the scandal caused by A Modern Olympia during the first exhibition of the Impressionists that Cézanne first became famous…
Paul Cézanne is considered an artist of the Post-Impressionism era, although he was a contemporary and friend of the Impressionists. Those contemporaries rightfully counted him among the Impressionists – Cézanne had exhibited with the Impressionists at the first 1874 exhibition, consequently, even the critic Leroy branded him, as he did the others, with this label. While working alongside Monet, Renoir and Pissarro, who were his friends all his life, Cézanne appraised their painting critically and followed his own, independent path. The Impressionists’ aspiration to copy nature objectively did not satisfy him. “One must think”, he said, ‘the eye is not enough, thinking is also necessary”. Cézanne’s own system of painting was born in a dispute with Impressionism.
Paul Cézanne was born on January 19, 1839, in the city of Aix-en-Provence, where his father had founded a bank. At the Age of thirteen, his father sent him to boarding school at Bourbon College, where Paul studied for six years.
These years would have been rather unhappy had he not made friends at the College. A boy from a poor family, Émile Zola, the dynamic excellent student Jean-Baptiste Baille and the shy Paul Cézanne became an inseparable trio.
In Aix there was also a free drawing school, where Cézanne began to busy himself in the evenings from 1858 on. But, his father had linked his son’s future with the bank; however, Paul rebelled against it from the very beginning.
In 1859, Cézanne‘s father bought an estate near Aix. Jas de Bouffan, which in the Provencal dialect means, “Home of the Winds” was situated on a small rise and had vineyards. At the time of Louis XIV, it had been the palace of the Provence governor. The living rooms of the ancient house were repaired and Paul installed a studio upstairs.
He came to love this place and often painted the deserted park, the lane of old nut trees and the pool with the stone dolphins. In his letters, Zola persistently demonstrated his faith in his friend’s talent as an artist and invited his friend to Paris: “You must satisfy your father by studying law as assiduously as possible. But you must also work seriously on drawing.”
Paul’s father was obstinate, but, finally, he gave in, not having lost hope that his son would change his mind. Paul was able to abandon law and leave for Paris to take up painting. Finally, in 1861, Paul’s father himself took the future artist to Paris and promised to send him 250 francs every month.
In the novel L’OEuvre, Zola endows his hero with the young Cézanne‘s appearance such as it was when he showed up in Paris: “A skinny boy, with knobbly joints, a stubborn spirit and a bearded face…”. This is how Cézanne also appears in the self-portraits of his Parisian youth: a beard, which covered the lower part of his face, forcefully sculpted cheekbones, and a serious, sharp stare.
Paris life did not spoil Cézanne. The joy of meeting with Zola, their first excursions together to the museums, and walks around the city and its suburbs gave way to the harsh regimen of work. Most of all, Cézanne went to the Swiss Academy on the Ile de la Cité.
But he missed Aix, its valleys and the Mont Sainte-Victoire, and the friends he left behind. Paris disappointed him. But chiefly, he was constantly dissatisfied with himself. Cézanne found many friends at the Swiss Academy and friends they remained.
Pissarro immediately appreciated Cézanne‘s boldness and ingenuity. Very likely, Armand Guillaumin, who later exhibited with the Impressionists, introduced them. Then Pissarro brought Cézanne to his friends – Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Bazille. In that same 1866, Cézanne became acquainted with Édouard Manet – through the mediation of mutual acquaintances, he obtained permission to visit Manet’s studio. After his visit, the master himself arrived at Guillaumin’s studio to see Paul’s still lives that were there. Cézanne always sensed the distance that separated him, a provincial painter just starting out, from the elegant, worldly Parisian, Manet. However, by virtue of his stubborn, cocky nature, he flaunted his own coarse provincialism.
Cézanne, like all artists, wanted to show his paintings, and this meant exhibiting at the Salon. He carried his canvases on a hand truck and impatiently awaited the jury’s decision, although he understood that his painting could not be accepted. Cézanne only succeeded in showing his canvases to the public for the first time at the first exhibition of Impressionists in 1874.
Cézanne‘s painting constantly surprised not only the jury, but also those artists who regarded him kindly. Once, when he was working ‘en plein air’, the landscape painter, Charles-François D’Aubigny, who lived in Auvers, saw him. However, it was not within his power to win over the jury.
When Cézanne was painting with his friends – the Impressionists – the difference between their works was striking. The motifs of his landscapes are those same banks of the Seine which Claude Monet, Sisley and Pissarro painted. Monet fragmented the colours of the trees and their reflections in the water into a multitude of minute flecks of pure colour, achieving impressions of movement and his colours radiated the sunlight. Cézanne, on the contrary, selected a single, conventional, sufficiently dark greenish blue with which he painted both the water and the bank of the Marne. He needed colour only to extrapolate volume. The effect proved to be directly the opposite of the impressionistic: the smooth river was absolutely still and not a single leaf fluttered on the trees, which stood out on the canvas like dense rounded masses….
The end of the nineteenth century also saw the birth of a new science: ethnography. In 1882 the ethnographical museum was opened in Paris and in 1893 an exhibition of Central America took place in Madrid. In 1898 during a punitive expedition to the British African colonies, the English rediscovered Benin and its strange art long after the
Portuguese discovery in the fifteenth century. The art works in gold of the indigenous Peruvian and Mexican populations, which had flooded Europe in the sixteenth century after the discovery of America and had scarcely been noticed by the art world; it was nothing more than precious metal to be melted down. The expansion of European boundaries at the end of the nineteenth century opened incredible aesthetic horizons to painters. Classic antiquity
ceased to be the only source of inspiration for figurative art. What O. Spengler later called the ‘decline of Europe’, which implied the end of pan-Europeanism in the widest sense of the word, had immediate effects on art.
The year 1886 marked the beginning of fundamental changes in the appearance of Paris. A competition was organised for the construction of a monument to commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution (1789) which coincided with the World’s Fair. It was the project of the engineer Gustave Eiffel to build a tower which was accepted.
The idea of building a 300 metre tall metal tower in the very centre of Paris alarmed Parisians. On February 14, 1887, the newspaper Le Temps published an open letter signed by Francois Coppée, Alexandre Dumas, Guy de Maupassant, Sully Prudhomme, and Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera building which was finished
in 1875. They wrote: “We the writers, painters, sculptors, achitects, passionate lovers of the as yet intact beauty of Paris express our indignation and vigourously protest, in the name of French taste, in the name of threatened French art and history, against the erection of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower right in the centre of our capital. Is the city of Paris to be associated any longer with oddities and with the mercantile imagination of a machine builder, to
irreparably disfigure and dishonour it? (…) Imagine for a moment this vertiginously ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, overpowering with its bulk Notre-Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle, the Saint-Jacques Tower, the Louvre, and the dome of Les Invalides, shaming all our monuments, dwarfing all our architecture, which will disappear in this nightmare (…) And, for twenty years, we shall see, spreading out like a blot of ink, the hateful shadow of this abominable column of bolted metal.”
Nevertheless, the World’s Fair of 1889 surprised Paris with the fine beauty of Eiffel’s architecture. During the exhibition 12,000 people a day visited the tower, and later it was used for telegraphic transmissions. But more importantly it finally became one of the dominant architectural features against which it had been opposed. The city was moving towards the twentieth century, and nothing could stop its development. Given the metal market pavilions of Baltard and the railway stations, the Paris of Haussmann had no trouble adopting the Eiffel Tower.
Amongst the Post-Impressionist artists of the period, some immediately welcomed the new architectural aesthetic. For Paul Gauguin the World’s Fair was the discovery of the exotic world of the East, with its Hindu temples and its Javanese dances. But the functional purity of the pavilion construction also impressed him. Gauguin wrote a text entitled “Notes sur l’art à l’Exposition universelle,” (“Notes on Art at the World’s Fair”) which was published in Le Moderniste illustré on July 4, 1889. “A new decorative art has been invented by engineer-architects, such as ornamental bolts, iron corners extending beyond the main line, a kind of gothic iron lacework,” he wrote. “We find
this to some extent in the Eiffel Tower.” Gauguin liked the heavy and simple decoration of the tower, and its purely
industrial material. He was categorically opposed to eclecticism and a mixture of styles. The new era produced a new aesthetic:“So why paint the iron the colour of butter, why gild it like the Opera? No, that’s not good taste. Iron, iron and more iron!”.The Post-Impressionist era was to dramatically change tastes and artistic passions. In 1912 Guillaume Apollinaire already designated the Eiffel tower as the new symbol of the city, becoming in his poems a shepherd guarding the bridges of Paris.
The year 1900 brought Paris new architectural landmarks: palaces appeared on the banks of the Seine, where pavilions for World’s Fair were traditionally built. Eugène Hénard drew up a plan for the right bank of which the principal feature was a wide avenue in the axis of the esplanade of Les Invalides and the Alexandre III Bridge. Along both sides of the avenue two pavilions were erected for the World’s Fair of 1900 – the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais – miracles of modern construction engineering. The principle of these constructions is that of a metallic structure surrounded by a façade of stone. The use of metal structures allowed decorating palaces with heavy stone and bronze sculptures in combination with painting and mosaic. These structures allowed roofs to be built over the huge spaces of the Grand Palais and to place spectacular halls for different kinds of temporary exhibitions, even industrial ones, inside. Many famous sculptors and painters of the end of nineteenth century took part in the decoration of the palace, so that it became the monument to the new style, born in the era of Post-Impressionism.
At the same time, on the left bank of the Seine stood another palace. Well, it was not a palace as such, but the Gare d’Orsay and a hotel, built with the drawings of architect Victor Laloux. Trains were supposed to deliver visitors of the World’s Fair of 1900 directly in the centre of Paris. Contemporaries compared the station to the Petit Palais. “The station is superb, and looks like a Palais des Beaux-Arts. Just like the Palais des Beaux-Arts resembles a train station, I proposed to Laloux that he make the switch if there is still time,” wrote one of the artists after the opening of the World’s Fair. These new palaces completed Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paris.
Post-Impressionism and its Contributions
The era of Post-Impressionism was the time of lone painters; only a very small number of them got together, and then only rarely. The great specialist of Impressionism, John Rewald, used the ingenious phrase of Émile Verhaeren: “There is no longer a unique school, he wrote in 1891, there are a few groups, but even they break up constantly. All these movements remind me of moving geometrical pieces in a kaleidoscope, which separate suddenly only to
better come together again. They move apart then get together, but, nevertheless, stay in the same circle – the circle of the new art.”
They didn’t share the same opinion about art, nature or painting style. The only thing the painters had in common was the impression that Impressionism left on them: none of them could have worked in this manner, working as if Impressionism had not existed. All these artists faced the same sad fate – not one of them had a hope of ever entering the Salon and showing his work to the public. Impressionists had shown them a possible way: they created their own exhibitions, excluding from it those who were not with them. They were all very different: some did not have the necessary level of professionalism according to the jury’s rules; some shocked the public by being too bold in their style, too negligent or using colours which were too intense. A new exhibition opened in 1884 in Paris: Le Salon des artistes indépendants. The new Salon was a solution for everyone, because there was no jury and nobody was selecting works for the exhibition. Each painter could show whatever he wanted. The only condition was the number of works being shown, that number changed year after year. Georges Seurat, a Neo-Impressionist, whose unusual position made him undesirable for official exhibitions, took a very active part in organising the Salon des Indépendants. The Independents proclaimed what became the significant achievement of the Post-Impressionism era. According to the ‘Sunday’ painter Henri Rousseau, “Freedom to create must be given to initiators”. Only two years after the last Impressionists exhibition, each painter had the possibility of showing his work to a wide audience.
Although it was often hard to discover a great talent among hundreds of pieces shown there, it was that Salon that gave the opportunity to such uneducated artists as Henri Rousseau to discover the art scene. School education ceased to be an essential quality for painters; Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin were also persistent, self-taught painters. Paul Cézanne – ‘the Impressionist’ –, who was not satisfied with Impressionists’ style, also chose his own special path; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, even though he had received classical education, decided to choose a disapproved path. The work of all these painters was conceived in the era of Post-Impressionism and their lives, surprisingly, ended with the end of the century:Vincent van Gogh died in 1890, Seurat – in 1891, Lautrec – in 1901, Gauguin –
in 1903, Cézanne – in 1910, the Douanier Rousseau – in 1910.
The term ‘Post-Impressionism’ has only one meaning: ‘after Impressionism’. Post-Impressionism is not an art movement, nor an art style; it is a brief period at the end of the nineteenth century. Impressionism being a phenomenon unique to French painting, the idea of Post-Impressionism is also closely linked to French art. Generally, the beginning of the Post-Impressionist era dates from 1886, from the moment of the eighth and final joint Impressionist Art exhibition. The era ends after 1900, running only into the first decade of the twentieth century. Although ‘Post-Impressionism’ and its chronological limits are well-defined, it seems that several Post-Impressionist works exist outside this period.
Despite this period’s extreme brevity, it is often described as an ‘era’ of Post-Impressionism. In fact, this twenty-year period saw the emergence of such striking artistic phenomena, such varying styles of pictorial art and such remarkable creative personalities, that these years at the turn of the century can without a doubt be characterised as an ‘era’.
The Technical and Scientific Revolution
The period of Post-Impressionism began at a time of unbelievable changes in the world. Technology was generating true wonders. The development of science, which formerly had general titles – physics, chemistry, biology, medicine – took many different, narrower channels. At the same time this encouraged very different areas of science to combine their efforts, giving birth to discoveries that had been unthinkable just two to three decades earlier. They dramatically changed the perception of the world and humanity. For example, the work of Charles Darwin The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex was published as early as 1871. Each new discovery or expedition brought something new. Inventions in transport and communications took men into previously inaccessible corners of the Earth. Ambitious new projects were designed to ease the communication between different parts of the world.In 1882 in Greece, the construction of the canal through the Isthmus of Corinth began; in 1891 Russia commenced the construction of the great Trans-Siberian railway which was finished by 1902; in America work started on the construction of the Panama Canal. Knowledge of new territories could not go unnoticed in the development of art.
At the same time there were great developments in telecommunications and transport. In 1876 Bell invented the telephone and, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century people began talking to each other in spite of the distance. Thanks to the invention of the telegraph, in 1895 Marconi developed the network of Hertzien waves, and four years later, the first radio program was broadcast. The speed of travelling across the Earth was increasing incredibly. In 1884 the first steam-car appeared on the streets of France; in 1886 Daimler and Benz were already producing cars in Germany, and the first car exhibition took place in Paris in 1898. In 1892 the first tramway was running in the streets of Paris, and in 1900 the Paris underground railway was opened. Man was taking to the air and exploring the depths of the earth. In 1890 Ader was the first to take off in an airplane; in 1897 he flew with a passenger, and in 1909 Blériot flew across the Channel. As early as 1887 Zédé had designed an electrically-fired submarine. It seemed like all the science-fiction projects of Jules Verne had become reality.
At the same period, scientific discoveries, barely noticed, but nevertheless significant for humanity, were taking place. In 1875 Flemming discovered chromosomes; in 1879 Pasteur found it was possible to vaccinate against diseases; in 1887 August Weismann published the Theory of Heredity. Lawrence discovered electrons; Röntgen did the same for X-rays and Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radioactivity. These discoveries in the field of science and engineering might seem distant from the Fine Arts, but nevertheless, they had a major influence on them. Technology gave birth to a new kind of art: in 1894 Edison recorded the first moving pictures, and in 1895 the Lumière brothers screened their first film.
European explorers became more and more adventurous, and brought back to Europe new and remarkable materials. In 1874 Stanley crossed Africa. In 1891 Dubois discovered the remains of a ‘pithecanthropus erectus’ on the island of Java. Previously during the 1860s, archaeologists E. Lartet and H. Christy found a drawing of a woolly mammoth engraved on a tusk in the Madeleine caves. It was hard to believe in the existence of Palaeolithic art, but further archaeological research provided evidence of its aesthetic value. In 1902 archaeologist Émile Cartailhac published a book in Paris called ‘Confession of a Sceptic’ which put an end to the long-lasting scorn of cave art. The amazing Altamira cave paintings, which had been subject to doubt for a long time, were finally proclaimed authentic. An intensive search for examples of prehistoric art began, which at the turn of the century turned into ‘cave fever’.
Amongst the women painters in modern history, Berthe Morisot achieved a distinction equalled only by that of Mary Cassatt. Her gifts did not at once receive public recognition, but in recent years they have won more and more appreciation. She was an interesting person. Degas once said of her that she painted pictures as she made bonnets – a suggestion of the femininely instinctive and impulsive action of her talent. One source of her strength, however, was the thoroughness of her training. Her father, an official at Bourges, saw that his daughter’s tastes were genuine, and made it easy for her to develop her faculties. She and her sister Edma were sent for instruction to Paris.
Edma Morisot abandoned painting when she married, but Berthe continued to work with the brush, exhibiting at the Salon. It was while she was making copies from old masters in the Louvre that she first came to know Edouard Manet. Later, Berthe became intimate with the great impressionist, modifying her style in the light of his example and developing the broad, vivid qualities for which her works are loved today. In 1874 she married Eugene Manet. Manet 1870 Repose (Portrait of Berthe Morisot), is a remarkable psychological study of a young woman. Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, and Monet frequented her house. She continued to paint, signing her pictures with the name by which she is still remembered in artistic annals. Her rank as an artist was obscured by her position as a woman of the world. She was not, it is true, a creative artist. It may even be said that she would not have made the progress that is shown in her best works, would not have given them their special character, if Manet had not been there to help her to form her style.
Yet upon the groundwork that she owed to her contact with Manet she superimposed qualities of her own. There is a delicate fragrance about her art, a certain feminine subtlety and charm, through which she proved herself an individualised painter. Berthe worked a lot in Normandy, especially around Fécamp; the landscape of this area remained her preferred motif. It was one of the things that drew her closer to the future Impressionists. Berthe’s other motif was Paris. In 1872, she painted an amazing panorama of the city: View of Paris from the Trocadéro. The city stretches out below, immense and light.
At the same time, Berthe was exhibiting pastels and watercolours. In these techniques she achieved definite success. The large portrait of Edma in a black dress with a background of white fabric decorated with delicate colour motifs is the work of a true master Portrait of Madame Pontillon (Paris, Louvre). But the charm of Berthe’s work is most evident in watercolours, such as The Artist’s Sister, Edma, with Her Daughter, Jeanne (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art) and On the Sofa (Stockholm, Nationalmuseum). In these works she lays down a light, transparent layer of paint, Blue, pink and gold reflections shimmer off the whiteness.
In 1892, Eugène Manet died. He had always helped Berthe. In 1893, Morisot painted a portrait of her daughter with her dog in an interior: Julie Manet and her Greyhound Laërte. The beauty of this freely painted work illustrates the artist’s maturity and mastery. Berthe was the only one who could see Julie in this way: serious and dreamy, simultaneously modest and self-confident. On 2 March 1895, Berthe died of influenza. Renoir was painting en plein-air with Cézanne in Aix when he received the telegram announcing the death of Berthe Morisot. He put away his things and went directly to the train station. “I had the impression of being all alone in a desert,” he told his son. And, even though Renoir, Degas, and Monet still had a long life ahead of them, upon the death of Berthe Morisot the group of Impressionists started to fade away.