Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne, “The Artist’s Father, Reading L’Événement”, 1866, Oil on Canvas, 198.5 x 110.3 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

In “The Artist’s Father”, Cézanne explored his emotionally charged relationship with his banker father. Tension is particularly evident in the energetic, expressive paint handling, an exaggeration of Courbet’s palette knife technique. The unyielding figure of Louis-Auguste Cézanne, the newspaper he is reading, his chair, and the room are described with obtrusively thick slabs of pigment.

The Artist’s Father can be interpreted as an assertion of Cézanne’s independence. During the early 1860s, Cézanne rejected the legal and banking careers advocated by his father and instead studied art, a profession his father considered grossly impractical. In this calculated composition, he seated his father precariouly near the edge of the chair and tilted the perspectival slope of the floor as though trying to tip his father out of the picture, an effect heightened by the contrast between his father’s heavy legs and shoes and the delicate feet of the chair supporting him.

The framed painting displayed on the back wall is a still life that Cézanne painted shortly before “The Artist’s Father”, a statement of his artistic accomplishment. The newspaper L’Evénement refers to novelist Emile Zola, the childhood friend who championed Cézanne’s bid to study art in Paris and who became art critic for the paper in 1866. Cézanne’s father customarily read another journal.

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