Summary Art Principles from Paul Cezanne (Yellow House # 16)

January 23, 2012

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Summarized below are some of the most important lessons I've learned through the years from the French Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne, one of the greatest artists who ever lived:

a.)  Balance of Romantic exuberance and color with Neo-classical order and lines,  resulting to a picture that feels still and dynamic at the same time

b.)  Use of warm and cool colors to model forms instead of using an object's local color and chiaroscuro to model forms

c.)  "Flat depth" -- Create illusion of depth and distance without employing the renaissance's linear perspective nor impressionism's aerial perspective by arranging picture planes and employing warm and cool colors to depict space and distance

d.)  Solidity of forms -- re-emphasized form after it was blurred by the impressionists who taught him earlier (Pissarro in particular) to brighten his colors

e.)  "You must see in nature the sphere, the cylinder and the cone..."  -- organizing and viewing nature in its basic shapes.  Inspired Cubism.

f.)  Painting is not slavish copying but "translating" what one sees

g.)  The head in a portrait is merely a convenient way to start a picture -- every part of the canvas is important

h.)  The laying of the first brush stroke indicates the start of a balancing process in the entire painting surface.  Hence, the first brush stroke must be balanced by another stroke elsewhere in the canvas and the next should be balanced by another, and so on and so forth...

i.)  Altering perspective (consciously or not), or employing multiple perspectives in a single painting in order to suit the desired composition

j.)  Goal to "recreate Poussin after nature" or making nature adhere to classical forms and order.

k.)  "I want to make out of impressionism something solid and lasting like the art in the museums."

            I initially learned most of these principles from the Time-Life Art volume, "The World of Cezanne" and reinforced by succeeding readings of other books about him.  I frequented the Art bookshelves in our college library whenever I got bored reading and researching for my economics and political science majors.  Years after graduation I still had access to these volumes through my young friends who were still in college.  I haven't found a book that's more comprehensive yet easy to read than Time-Life's in terms of the insightful analysis of techniques and philosophy inter-woven with the artist's biography.

Compotier, Pitcher and Fruit by Paul Cezanne.  The genius of Cezanne shines as he builds the forms of apples and linen with solid colors.  The apples look  and feel so real and inviting although they don't have the still life realism of a Caravaggio.   

            I intend to regularly get back to these principles and be guided as I move along.  I also hope this summary invites you to start exploring the genius of Paul Cezanne.  

          Always remember when reading Cezanne or Van Gogh or other artists that their genius lie in the fact that they started doing things that other people during their time didn't do or didn't even understand.  Their genius next lies in the fact that they opened the door to succeeding art movements like expressionism, fauvism, surrealism etc.  As Henri Matisse once said referring to Cezanne, "He is the father of us all"

          Paul Cezanne himself admitted that he was only the primitive of a new art when people started admiring his art.  The question now is, are the art movements that followed Cezanne until the movements that have grown to our period, strictly the logical conclusion of his philosophies?  Have they already exhausted all the possible fruits and new seeds of everything "Cezannesque"? 

My oil pastel version of Cezanne's glittering "House in Provence".  Notice that there are no animate objects or humans in the picture but it still evokes motion and a sense of quiet excitement.

The Art Story website gives the following short and clear presentation of the influences on and influences of Cezanne:


Update [Oct. 7, 2012]:  You may want to read further and check my recent post about what Vincent Van Gogh wrote about Cezanne in two of his letters in 1888.

What is my Yellow House?  Read here.



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