The Father of Modern Art


[Cézanne] is the father of us all.
—Matisse and Picasso

[I]t is true that there is hardly one modern artist of importance to whom Cézanne is not father or grandfather, and that no other influence is comparable with his.
—Clive Bell, Art Critic, 1922

I was somewhat aware of Cézanne and knew that he had some connection with the Impressionists, but I hadn’t realized how much influence he had on later artists. People hated his work in the early days, but by the end of his life he had already become a legendary figure.

Here’s a five-minute cheerful video of Cézanne and his work:

This site had a more detailed biography and shows 739 of his paintings.

The thing that impresses me is that Cézanne rarely liked anything he painted. He destroyed many of his works and left a lot of the rest unfinished. He thought he had failed in what he was trying to do, in spite of his dedication. He died when he was 67 because he got caught in a rainstorm while painting outside. As a consequence he developed pneumonia and died a few days later.

His attitude towards his work was just the opposite of Renoir’s. When Renoir was an art student his teacher said, “Young man, you are very skilled, very gifted, but it looks as if you took up painting just to amuse yourself.” Renoir answered, “Well, yes, if I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t be doing it.”

How do you feel about what you do? Do you do it because it gives you great pleasure? Are you never satisfied? I can spend hours on tiny details, trying slight modifications and seeing what I like best. Sometimes I like the results, sometimes not. Even if I’m not satisfied and it’s time to move on, I figure at least I’ve learned something. Presumably it will be useful in the future. What about you?

Thanks to Rummuser, Evan, Ursula, tammy, Cathy and bikehikebabe for commenting on last week’s post.
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11 Responses to The Father of Modern Art

  1. bikehikebabe says:

    Yes I have a problem not seeing other viewpoints. I tend to think MY viewpoint is the right one.

  2. Evan says:

    All very mixed.

    Sometimes doing before I have time to think is what I need. Other times I need to drift and look and muck around.
    I am quite happy just playing and trying stuff out sometimes.
    Usually some parts of what I do are more enjoyable than others.
    Sometimes focus on developing a skill or ability to perceive quite systematically.

  3. Cathy in NZ says:

    I love slapping things together with my art, and I was probably like that when production weaving…I usually manage to come up with something spectacular that everyone things I created it meticulously with a lot of forethought etc!

  4. Jean says:

    If you were always right, what would that get you that you don’t already have?

    It sounds as if you’re flexible rather than rigid — that’s good for the nerves. :)

    That’s great!

  5. Dixie says:

    Wow. It’s a day to day thing for me. I never know when “Fibro-fog” will threaten my joy. Sometimes I can push through and other times, I wait. Eventually I do feel great satisfaction because it’s my choice to. I might add, faith.

  6. Evan says:

    Hi Dixie,

    My wife was diagnosed with fibro a few weeks ago.

    If you have any advice on living with it or resources or venues that are useful I’d be grateful if you could pass them on. You can contact me via my blog rather than cluttering up Jean’s if that’s OK.

  7. Jean says:

    I agree that patience and faith are important, also flexibility. Good luck. I will be following you on your blog.

    And good luck to you and your wife too.

  8. Rummuser says:

    For the world of it, I cannot remember where I read about it, but it will eventually come to me and I shall revisit this post and comment again. Cezanne apparently was never satisfied with his work and insisted that he was still learning with each work. I however did not know that he destroyed many of his unfinished works. That falls into place with what I had read. This phenomenon was likened to the geometric (?) asymptote where the curved line never really meets the straight line. That metaphor has stayed with me. He was obviously of a different personality than the normal artist who would be satisfied with each of his output.

    I am afraid I am not like Cezanne. I am one of those who will accept that what I have achieved is the best that I could have done and simply move on to the next activity. Like Renoir, I would have had fun during the activity though! May be I could have achieved more had I been more like Cezanne! But then, would it have been worth it? I will ponder over this! And, knowing you as I do, you will come out with some incisive observation and I look forward to it.

  9. Jean says:

    As far as I can tell Renoir produced more pictures than Cezanne did. And he was a better craftsman. His wife told Henri Matisse, “…you see, Cezanne never knew what he was doing…Renoir and Monet, they knew their craft.”

    Renoir was as devoted to painting as Cezanne, but he loved it more. The impressive thing was he not only painted in spite of the pain of his rheumatoid arthritis, his love made the disease more bearable.

  10. tammyj says:

    i’m so glad you’re doing more on the masters here! it’s fun to re discover them with you. i’d forgotten that i liked cezanne.
    there’s kind of an architectural element to his work… like it’s outlined somehow. you know… like we used to do in coloring books? at least i did. after you colored.. you outlined for more dramatic effect! LOL.
    wonder how he’d like to be compared to a kid coloring with crayolas.
    sorry master! oh yes. as to your question…
    i forgot the question! LOLOL. just a minute. be right back. have to scroll up and read it…
    i do everything because it gives me great pleasure! at least now that i’m retired. and i have stopped judging whatever i do… oddly enough. i used to be my worst critic. now i’m kinder to myself! LOL.

  11. Jean says:

    Good for you for giving up the inner critic!

    I won’t be writing about painting for a couple of weeks, but I am learning more about Cezanne, Matisse and Renoir. There are a couple of stories worth sharing, but the reading is going slowly and there are a few other things I have to get caught up on. Life does sometimes intrude. :)

    I love your analogy about outlining one’s pictures for dramatic effect. Thanks for telling me what you like about Cezanne. As far as I can tell he didn’t like what he was producing, and he didn’t like the way the world was changing. He probably would have been horrified by the modern art he fathered!

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