The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Visit The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England to explore some of Cézanne’s early work – pieces reflecting an exploration of intense feeling, light, and Romanticism. The young Cézanne was inspired by classical, emotion-charged mythology and stories, an interest some Freudian critics attribute to a psychological desire to express issues with rage and sexual repression. And indeed, it is clear that in his early work Cézanne channeled intense expressions of passion into his art. The Walker Art Gallery houses one of the most prominent pieces produced by Cézanne in this period, The Murder (1868). This work is a clear exploration into the depths of rage. The subject of this piece is a murderer caught moments before he delivers the blow of death, and the work as a whole is reminiscent of Velazquez or Goya with its use of light and obscurity of the figures, highlighting Cézanne’s appreciation of the old painting masters. There is also a fascination for modern life beginning to emerge in this painting, a subject shift from that of his contemporaries.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Cézanne brought life to art through still life. He took inanimate objects and gave them a sense of energy and movement, and you can visit New York’s Museum of Modern Art to enjoy some of Cézanne’s most captivating still life work. The notion of painting ordinary objects in a commonplace position was revolutionary and intriguing at the time Cézanne was painting, and he knew it. He remarked before exhibiting Still Life with Fruit Dish (1879-1880), “I should like to astonish Paris with an apple.” Indeed, this painting became one of the most talked about pieces, with the material presence of the fruit representing a departure from Impressionism, and instead showcasing a desire to show life in inanimate objects. Cézanne’s ability to do this successfully demonstrates his undeniable skill with color, and although London’s Bloomsbury set, an influential group of English intellectuals, were not fans of this new style, Cézanne gained admiration worldwide. The painting of ordinary objects aligned the artist with the masses; his work was seen as a depiction of the real life of real people, rather than yet another representation of the life of the cultural elite.
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Paul Cézanne harbored importantant relationships with the people in his life, bonds which directly affected his work, and the best museum in which to explore this is The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. He had a strong connection with both his mother and sister, and the two are depicted in Girl at the Piano (The Overture to Tannhäuser) (1868-9), which is available for viewing at this gallery. Although the title conveys an unfamiliarity, the closeness of the two figures in the picture illustrate an affection and strong bond, and the pair feature heavily in Cézanne’s work throughout his life. In 1869 the artist entered a liaison with a young seamstress, Hortense Fiquet, with whom he later married and had a son. Hortense is used as a model in many of Cézanne’s paintings and is a regularly recurring figure of youth and porcelain beauty. Another unmissable painting at The Hermitage is a portrait of his gardener Alex Paulin entitled: The Smoker, 1890-92. In this piece Cézanne utilizes deep and vivid primary colors to create an image filled with weight and longing, and emphasizes the ruddiness of Paulin’s complexion to demonstrate that he is an average man, a hard-working labourer. The position of Paulin’s elbow demonstrates a desire for symmetrical lines; the elbow angle matches the drapes and the curves of his suit, creating a seamless composition.
The State Hermitage, 2 Palace Square, St Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 710-90-79
Musée D’Orsay, Paris, France
It should come as no surprise that the best institution in which to see work spanning Paul Cézanne’s entire career is the Musée D’Orsay, in his native home country of France. The Beaux Artes building here, located in a reconstructed train station, is one of the best Impressionism collections in the world, a top spot for anyone looking for a crash course in the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art periods. In the work of Cézanne here, the influences of Danish-French artist Pissarro are abundantly clear, with a short-stroked, Impressionistic style of painting evident in his pieces conveying French homes. In looking at a work like The House of the Hanged Man (1873) one can see characteristics of both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. The imagination and intensity of feeling is evident, with bold colors and a use of shifting life, but there is also a clear structure and substance, straight lines and edges, lending more of a realistic approach to his work, and breaking him away from his Impressionist contemporaries.
Musée D’Orsay, 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 75007 Paris, France +33 1 40 49 48 14
The Courtauld Gallery, London, United Kingdom
The Courtauld Gallery in London has an amazing collection of Cézanne’s work, and is the best place to view his landscape pieces. The former estate houses several of his drawings and watercolors, as well as incredibly beautiful paintings of the scenes near his hometown in Aix-en-Provençe, France. Cézanne was mesmerized by the relationship between man and the agelessness of the landscape, as it called to mind a perplexing question: what is the relationship between modern man and nature? One of his most used landscape subjects was Mont Sainte-Victore, and he made nearly 100 oil paintings and watercolors of the mountain. He was also fascinated with water, and painted The Blue Lake (Lake Annecy) in 1896. What is distinctive about this piece are the harsh lines and knife pallette techniques used to create an extremely beautiful and reflective stretch of water.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Towards the end of Cézanne’s life the artist painted three large, stunning canvases of female nudes, one of which is here at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The collection is called The Large Bathers, and the figures draw on the classical allusions he favored when he was younger, reminiscent of the mythological figures of Diana and her maidens. The piece is unfinished, yet illustrates an exploration of geometry and focus which is captivating. The layout of the museum here allows visitors to appreciate a range of works, and to easily compare Cézanne’s work to that of other artists, a design feature which truly emphasizes Cézanne’s splendor and mastery.