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Post-Impressionist French painter Paul Cézanne is best known for his incredibly varied painting style, which greatly influenced 20th century abstract art.
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His technique in these early paintings is similarly romantic, often impassioned. For his "Man in a Blue Cap" (also called "Uncle Dominique," 1865-1866), he applied pigments with a palette knife, creating a surface everywhere dense with impasto. The same qualities characterize Cézanne's unique "Washing of a Corpse" (1867-1869),
which seems to both portray events in a morgue and be a pietà—a representation of the biblical Virgin Mary.
A fascinating aspect of Cézanne's style in the 1860s is the sense of energy in his work. Though these early works seem groping and uncertain in comparison to the artist's later expressions, they nevertheless reveal a profound depth of feeling. Each painting seems ready to explode beyond its limits and surface. Moreover, each seems to be the conception of an artist who could either be a madman or a genius—the world will likely never know, as Cézanne's true character was unknown to many, if not all, of his contemporaries.
Though Cézanne received encouragement from Pissarro and some of the other Impressionists during the 1860s and enjoyed the occasional critical backing of his friend Zola, his pictures were consistently rejected by the annual Salons and frequently inspired more ridicule than did the early efforts of other experimenters in the same generation.
In 1872, Cézanne moved to Pontoise, France, where he spent two years working very closely with Pissarro. Also during this period, Cézanne became convinced that one must paint directly from nature. One result of this change in artistic philosophy was that romantic and religious subjects began to disappear from Cézanne's canvases. Additionally, the somber, murky range of his palette began to give way to fresher, more vibrant colors.
A direct result of his stay in Pontoise, Cézanne decided to participate in the first exhibition of the "Société Anonyme des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs, etc." in 1874. This historic exhibition, which was organized by radical artists who'd been persistently rejected by the official Salons, inspired the term "Impressionism"—originally a derogatory expression coined by a newspaper critic—marking the start of the now-iconic 19th century artistic movement. The exhibit would be the first of eight similar shows between 1874 and 1886. After 1874, however, Cézanne exhibited in only one other Impressionist show—the third, held in 1877—to which he submitted 16 paintings.
After 1877, Cézanne gradually withdrew from his Impressionist colleagues and worked in increasing isolation at his home in southern France. Scholars have linked this withdrawal to two factors: 1) The more personal direction his work began to take was not well-aligned with that of other Impressionists, and 2) his art continued to generate disappointing responses from the public at large. In fact, after the third Impressionist show, Cézanne did not exhibit publicly for nearly 20 years.
Cézanne's paintings from the 1870s are a testament to the influence that the Impressionist movement had on the artist.
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