(b. 1839, Aix-en-Provence, d. 1906, Aix-en-Provence)
French painter, the leading figure in the revolution toward abstraction in modern painting. His father, Philippe Auguste, was the cofounder of a banking firm which prospered throughout the artist's life, affording him financial security that was unavailable to most of his contemporaries and eventually resulting in a large inheritance. In 1852 Cézanne entered the Collège Bourbon, where he met and became friends with Émile Zola who for a time encouraged the painter in his work. Cézanne began to study painting and drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts in Aix in 1856. His father opposed the pursuit of an artistic career, and in 1858 he persuaded Cézanne to enter law school at the University of Aix. Although Cézanne continued his law studies for several years, he was simultaneously enrolled in the School of Design in Aix, where he remained until 1861.
Cézanne went to Paris in 1861; there he met Pissarro, who strongly influenced his development. He divided his time between Provence and the environs of Paris until his retirement to Aix in 1899.
Cézanne's early work is marked by a heavy use of the palette knife, from which he created thickly textured and violently deformed shapes and scenes of a fantastic, dreamlike quality. Although these impulsive paintings exhibit few of the features of his later style, they anticipate the expressionist idiom of the 20th century.
In his early career, he was strongly influenced by Delacroix and Courbet, using thick slabs of paint to give his early works a sculptural presence and intensity. Through Pissarro, Cézanne came to know Manet and the Impressionist painters. He was concerned, after 1870, with the use of colour to create perspective, but the steady, diffused light in his works is utterly unrelated to the Impressionist preoccupation with transitory light effects. House of the Hanged Man is characteristic of his Impressionist period. He exhibited with the Impressionists in 1874, but eventually rejected what he considered the Impressionists' lack of structure, declaring his intention to make impressionism into "something solid and durable, like the art of museums." After 1874 Cézanne exhibited in only one other Impressionist show, the third, which was held in 1877 and to which he submitted 16 paintings.
Cézanne sought to "recreate nature" by simplifying forms to their basic geometric equivalents, utilizing contrasts of colour and considerable distortion to express the essence of landscape, still-lifes, and figural groupings. His portraits are vital studies of character, e.g., Madame Cézanne and Ambroise Vollard.
Cézanne developed a new type of spatial pattern. Instead of adhering to the traditional focalized system of perspective, he portrayed objects from shifting viewpoints. He created vibrating surface effects from the play of flat planes against one another and from the subtle transitions of tone and colour. In all his work he revealed a reverence for the integrity and dignity of simple forms by rendering them with an almost classical structural stability. His Bathers is the monumental embodiment of a number of Cézanne's visual systems.
The artist's later works are largely still-lifes (among them his famous apples), male figures, and recurring landscape subjects. While retaining a solid substructure, they seem freer and more spontaneous and employ more transparent painterly effects than earlier works. Cézanne worked in oil, watercolour, and drawing media, often making several versions of his works.
Cézanne modulated warm and cool hues to depict depth and surface and used his constructive brushstroke, rather than perspective or foreshortening, to build up form and structure. Since 1890, his complex painting has influenced nearly every avant-garde movement in painting.
Cézanne's influence on the course of modern art, particularly on the development of cubism, is enormous and profound. His theories spawned a whole new school of aesthetic criticism, especially in England, that has ranked him among the foremost French masters. There are fine collections of his paintings in the Louvre; the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; and the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania.