Paul Cezanne’s paintings are regarded today as being of considerable importance to the development of modern art. Cezanne’s use of colour as tone and his heavy interest in the formal elements of composition paved the way for artists following on from him to question what they were perceiving and their ability to visually represent what they saw through painting. This essay will be examining the influence that Paul Cezanne had on Cubism and how this elevated the picture into an autonomous object rather than a mere representation of nature.
The French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne, although heavily ignored by the mainstream art sphere centered within Paris, had a considerable impact on Cubism as he laid out the fundamental ideas from which the cubists would create their works. One of the main key points that was central to the cubists was faceting, this reduction of form within the external world and transforming them to geometrical facets, ‘Nature should be treated as cylinders, spheres and cones.’.
Cezanne’s manner of depicting reality with inaccuracy and multiple viewpoints divorced itself from the laws of perceptive construction and allowed him to interpret what he saw in a subjective way, he wasn’t interested in merely imitating what he saw onto the canvas but rather to re-think the conventions which restrict traditional painting. A clear departure from traditional painting as a representational phenomenon has taken place, it’s no longer mimetic of nature or reality but rather holds its own reality within itself and painting and art in general is made autonomous through Cezanne’s unique approach.
Where other painters saw transient effects of light Cezanne had the ability to perceive geometric structures and thus from his search for underlying structure of composition came Cubism and then Abstraction. In the impressionist movement, and other predecessors to cubism and post-impressionism, artists weren’t concerned in dealing with matters of inner meaning within their paintings, they were simply responding to what they saw which in turn gave little for the viewer to think about.
It is here that we see Cezanne’s more conceptual manner of depicting reality by breaking things into obscure shapes and abstracted form, he projects his inner emotion and consciousness onto the canvas to represent a state of mind, ‘The painter’s idea cannot be conceived apart from the means he uses, for it is meaningful only so far as it is embodied in those means, and the deeper his idea the more complete they must be. I am unable to distinguish between my feelings for life and my way of transposing it. A painting must carry all its meanings within itself, and impose it on the viewer before he identifies the subject matter.’.
This parallel of representing nature and self by use of facets and high-keyed colour (colour as a subjective device) is something that’s echoed throughout the works of the cubists, specifically the initial stages of this movement. It seems from this point onwards the painting has become a picture object, it’s removed from the shallow confines of our perception and begins to contribute to reality by adding other aspects and elements, ‘ He was, in fact, the first Post-Impressionist to make, as did the Pointillists and eventually the cubists, as structural analysis of nature, producing an art of the mind concerned with emotional apprehension of formal qualities in mountains, women or onions and totally unconcerned with the evanescent effects of light, shade and atmosphere.’ . This manner of painting had seeped into the consciousness of Pablo Picasso and George Braque, although they had obviously added their own elements to form their own individual styles Cezanne had laid out the basis from which the cubists could build upon.
Although Cubism can be categorised into three key phases: Analytical, Hermetic and Synthetic, it is all somewhat representational of reality. Pushed and stretched to its very limits reality has been distorted and forms are no longer instantly apparent, the viewer must project apart of themselves in order to make sense of what is happening within the painting. From the painters view the cubists applied an aspect of analysis in their paintings by which forms became increasingly fragmented, this way of depicting objects, landscapes and people was similar to Cezanne’s work in the way he represented nature. He was looking beyond the mere surface and impressions which met his gaze and focussed on the inner structures that made up things around him, this of course implies careful consideration and a process of analysis. This is something which resonated with Picasso’s work and contributed to his painting Demoiselles d’ Avingon 1908, ‘He took his cue in this partly from Cezanne’s efforts to fashion a way of painting that would lay bare – or at least open up for exploration by the viewer – the complex process of pictorial representation’.
Upon looking at the works of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’ Avingon 1908 and even George Braque’s Houses at L’Estaque 1908, we can indicate a clear influence that is derived from Cezanne’s style of this alignment of nature and the artist. In Braque’s painting we note a visible colour palette which has been simplified and the use of structure that has been used in order to re-create nature, all of which is comparable to Cezanne’s painting Mont Sainte-Victoire 1902-04. However, Braque has accentuated certain elements resulting in a more systematic , clean and simplified style, ‘Yet unlike Cezanne, Braque pushes the juxtaposition of different perspectives to the point of contradiction, and underscores it with a quite arbitrary distribution of light and shade; rooflines fail to meet walls, spaces and solids are elided, buildings are stacked up against one another like playing cards, and in the absence of a horizon the landscape is compressed into the space of a low relief.’. (FOOTNOTE: Movements in Modern Art Cubism, David Cottington, pg. 22)We notice a clear direction towards further abstraction in terms of form and colour and as cubism progresses these abstractions are further emphasised until reality is barely visible and only signals and indications of things are implied to the viewer.
In addition, Picasso’s painting held similar elements of Cezanne’s style and although his painting Demoiselles d’ Avingnon is regarded as more of a proto-cubist artwork in a way it planted the seeds of his style which would later blossom and carry the cubist movement. He is still referencing Cezanne in terms of geometric shapes, limited colours, the fusions between negative and positive shapes and also the arbitrary use of light as he sees fit. Moving away from Demoiselles d’ Avingnon and focussing on Cottage and Trees (La Rue-des-Bois) 1908, again we see a direct correlation in terms of style to Cezanne’s and even Braque’s painting Houses at L’Estaque, in terms of subject matter it’s quite similar; fragmented shapes are used to signify a landscape with houses and contorted trees, however this use of shapes is further abstracted from that of Cezanne’s and Braque’s and again we see the use of colour being completely redundant in terms of imitating the world. The painting has become a complex of invented forms, singular viewpoints, accurate proportions and visual representation are no longer necessary, ‘Picasso independently emphasises each elemnt – volume, line, plane, light and shade – even at the expense of compositional unity. The effect is to maximise the dynamic effect of the painting.’.
The emancipation of pictorial elements of line and colour elevated the painting to the picture object, as these elements no longer needed to be used objectively to depict the reality in which we are all submitted to, rather the artists can form the basis of a painting from reality and meet it halfway through his use of representing the internal reality which he is mentally experiencing. Cezanne used a process of analysis and reflection in creating his work which then influenced the cubists to constitute their own individual reality and project it onto the canvas. The result being fragmented geometric shapes which accentuate certain elements of figures, subjective and limited use of colour and an overall less naturalistic representation of what is directly being observed, this in turn helped painters like the cubists to re think what they were painting and also to think of what painting in general could be.