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Monsieur Cezanne

January 17, 2014

It is good to be painting again and at the same time studying Cezanne’s life and work. The book I’m reading is coffee table format from Taschen publishers, it was originally German and I’ve got the Dutch translation from the library.

First stage, roughing in the colours

First stage, roughing in the colours

So much to say, where to start.

This stage of a painting is my favourite, everything is still open.  The composition is solid enough to hold it, and the subject familiar enough not to pose too many technical problems. I love it as it is, it hardly needs anything more in some ways. The eternal dilemma, how to work on anyway, and keep the original freshness.

All the while, I’m thinking about Cezanne on 2 levels- personally, how it was for him as an artist, and technically, how did he solve this, what brush strokes did he use and when, how did he apply paint, how did he use colour?

It was really tough for Cezanne as an artist. His father wanted him to work in the family banking business, his home life in general pulled him emotionally this way and that. He made some truly awful paintings in the beginning! We rarely see those! It wasn’t that they were just immature, (they according to his biographers are packed with symbols representing his inner conflicts), they are dark, and not particularly well painted.

Early work of Cezanne

Early work of Cezanne    Source   

What is so inspiring about his life is the gradual inner transformation he underwent which enabled him to gain the discipline to really work at getting his emotions under control, and to finally devote himself to his art despite huge lack of self confidence.  All this was reflected in the growing stability and harmony of his  images.

His relation to the Impressionists is a whole other story, and just as riveting from the point of personal transformation, individuation and art. Mostly he was a loner, following his heart, weathering rejection and ridicule, carving out his own path with very little respect or support from all but a few of his peers. His brush strokes are born out of this, forming the beautiful, strong and rhythmic surfaces of his mature paintings. Everything works, the compositions, unity of colour, application of paint- and he had to fight for all of it, most often working alone in uncertainty.

Chateau de Medan, Cezanne

Chateau de Medan, Cezanne   Source

So back to me, one of Cezanne’s countless students from afar, more than a century separating us, but still feeling his presence close. How do you apply paint, how do you handle a patterned cloth, indicate the pattern but not lose the light and dark movements of the folds? How do you define an edge, how do you apply the paint and keep the stroke fresh and separate yet have it harmonise with the strokes next to it and the painting as a whole? Monsieur?

And this is a difficult stage of a painting, the part where by making a few decisions you instantly eradicate the infinite futures of your painting and limit it to one outcome. My heart always sinks a bit when  I start to apply thicker paint, my own limitations are more evident, and the lofty hopes I had at the beginning start to come down to earth more. Oh well, the way to get to your work, the bright, soaring, uniquely own work you were born to do, is simply to do the next painting.

Stage 2, starting to apply thicker paint

Stage 2, starting to apply thicker paint

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2 Responses to “Monsieur Cezanne”


  1. Amazing how your painting is blossoming. I admire your persistence and insight while studying the artist and being the artist. A beautiful representation of the circle of life.


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