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Paul Czanne

(Jan.19, 1839, Aix-en-Provence - Oct. 22, 1906, Aix-en-Provence, Fr) French Oil Painting Artist Biography.

Paul Cezanne is as great an artist as any that ever lived. Like Manet and Degas and also Mary Cassat, he came from a wealthy family. Czanne's father was a successful manufacturer of hats who, in 1847, was sufficiently well off to acquire a local bank, founding the Banque Czanne. His banker father seems to have been an uncultivated man of whom his highly nervous and inhibited son was afraid. Despite parental displeasure, Czanne persevered with his passionate desire to become an artist. His early oil paintings display little of the majesty of his late work, though today they are rightfully awarded the respect that he certainly never received for them.

In 1862 he was introduced to the famed circle of artists who met at the Caf Guerbois in Paris, which included Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro, but his awkward manners and defensive shyness prevented him from becoming an intimate with the group. However, Pissarro was to play an important part in Czanne's later development. His early years were difficult and his career was, from the beginning, dogged with repeated failure and rejection. His paintings were regularly refused at the Salon, and his disappointment led him to return home to Aix once again in 1864, remaining there until 1870 when he began dividing his time between Aix and Paris. Living an unstable existence in the capital, where he constantly changed apartments and began a relationship with his future wife Hortense, a young model, Czanne began to paint in a style inspired by Tintoretto, Crespi and Goya with whose work he had become familiar during visits to the Louvre.

Yet even in this early work, Czanne's grasp of form and solid pictorial structures which came to dominate his mature style are already essential components. His overriding concern with form and structure set him apart from the Impressionists from the start, and he was to maintain this solitary position, carving out his unique oil paintings. It was before nature that Paul Czanne was seized by a sense of the mystery of the world to a depth never expressed by another artist. He saw that nothing exists in isolation, an obvious insight, yet one that only he could make us see. Things have color and they have weight, and the color and mass of each affects the weight of the other. It was to understand these rules that Czanne dedicated his life.

In 1872 Czanne joined Pissarro in Pontoise, a trip that proved a turning point in his career. After a brief separation, he again met up with Pissarro in Auvers-sur-Oise where he remained for two years, close to Dr. Gachet and his new friend Vincent Van Gogh. Like the latter he worked en plein air whenever possible but, unlike Van Gogh, managed to slowly build up a modest clientele for his work. Under Camille Pissarro's influence, Czanne painted the rich Impressionist effects of light on different surfaces and even exhibited at the first Impressionist show. House of the Hanged Man (1873, Louvre, Paris) is characteristic of his Impressionist period, he maintained his concern for solidity and structure throughout and abandoned Impressionism in 1877.

The special attraction of still life to Czanne was the ability, to some extent, to control the structure. He brooded over his apples, jugs, tables and curtains, arranging them with infinite variety. Still Life with Apples and Peaches glows with energy, the fruits lie on the table with an active power that is not just seen but experienced. The jug bulges, not with any contents, but with its own weight of being. The curtain swags gloriously, while the great waterfall of the napkin absorbs and radiates light onto the table on which all this life is contained.

Czanne is not an easy man to love, but professors and painters adore him. Art critics lavish him with superlatives, including "a prophet of the 20th century," "the most sensitive painter of his time," "the greatest artist of the 19th century," and "the father of modern art." Czanne's pictures are restrained, impersonal and remote, they don't have the gut-wrenching appeal of Vincent Van Gogh portraits, even before he cut off part of his ear. They can't compete with Monet lush expanses of water lilies or Renoir sensuous women with their come-hither looks or the Tahitian backdrops of Paul Gauguin with or without the naked women. Czanne is an artist's artist. He was obsessed with form rather than content, so subject matter was always secondary to the act of painting itself. He wanted the methods and skills of the painter to be more important than the image. That meant the subject of the painting couldn't be so dynamic as to overshadow the artist's act of creation. His goal was not to have a mass audience or sales appeal, it was to satisfy himself.

Czanne was a brooding, complex man, given to rages, grudges and depressions. He had few friends, and those he had he alienated. Even when success finally caught up with him, he was dogged by feelings of inadequacy. The most famous of his friends was his schoolmate and writer Emile Zola, who was everything Czanne wasn't, charming, eloquent, sociable and successful at an early age. Zola was an art critic, novelist and Czanne's mentor. The artist looked at him for strength but gave nothing in return. Zola got tired of placating Czanne's ego, and in later years, when Zola wrote The Masterpiece of an unfulfilled artist who eventually killed himself, Czanne was convinced that the author had him in mind. He was so egocentric and so paranoid, he assumed everyone would know Zola was writing about him. The reality was that no one knew about him at all, but the novel still destroyed their friendship.

It's hard to imagine that the man who created such restrained, methodical, time-consuming works had a violent, volatile temper. Painting was his salvation, a way to balance the fires within. Rather than let his personality shine in his art, that scared him too much, he suppressed it. A psychoanalyst would have had a field day with Czanne. In spite of his bourgeois background, he was primitive, with rough edges and no table manners, although he did improve somewhat. He worked in virtual seclusion and seldom ventured out. He was such a recluse that one critic doubted he existed. When Czanne finally did attend a show of his paintings, he was amazed that the art gallery had bothered to frame them. Even when he finally enjoyed both success and sales he remained riddled with self-doubt.

Czanne was versatile; in his pursuit of perfection and a unique style, he experimented a lot. Art students often copy oil paintings, you still see them in museums with their sketchbooks and Czanne did just that, but unlike most, he never stopped copying. To him, it was an important form of discipline and inspiration. He felt he could understand art better through copying, and whenever he came to an impasse, he went off to the nearest museum, sketchbook in hand. His earliest works, from his first days in Paris, are expressionistic, with their impasto paint surface, broad use of the palette knife and brooding intensity. He took out his frustrations on the canvas. In the early 1870s, he experimented with Impressionism. He tried to combine the principles of light and air-based art with a more structured pictorial style. After that, he delved into Classicism with more balanced and formal compositions.

The 1890s marked his greatest period of production, adopting a more spatial and geometrical style that concentrates on color and its contrast. In 1899 he exhibited at the Salon des Independants and in 1900, he was invited to show at the Centennial Exhibition where the National Gallery of Berlin purchased one of the his landscape oil paintings. The death of Zola in 1892 deeply affected him, his great success and many official honors providing little consolation. Czanne sought to "recreate nature" by simplifying forms to their basic geometric equivalents, utilizing color and considerable distortion to express the essence of landscape, still-life's and figure groupings, The Card Players (1891 S.C. Clark Collection, New York City). Czanne 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 color. 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 Les Grandes Baigneuses (1898-1905, Philadelphia Museum of Art) is the monumental embodiment of a number of Czanne visual systems. The artist's later works are largely still life's, among them his famous apples, male figures and recurring landscape subjects.

Toward the end of his life, he was at his most daring, reducing architecture and figures to geometric forms and paving the way for Cubism. Paul Czanne'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. By the time he died in 1906 his early disappointments were forgotten, his critical reputation was established and he had finally achieved the fame that had eluded him for so long as one of the worlds artist.

Paul Cezanne, House of the Hanged Man

Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Apples and Peaches

Paul Cezanne, Les grandes baigneuses

Paul Cezanne, The Card Players Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Apples and Oranges
Paul Cezanne biography

House of the Hanged Man

Still Life with Apples and Peaches

Les Grandes Baigneuses The Card Players Still Life with Apples and Oranges

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Mary Cassatt

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