|"Cézanne et Moi." L- Guillaume Canet as Emile Zola, R-Guillaume Gallienne as Cézanne|
|A studio that Cezanne kept within the|
Fortunately, the movie takes you through some of the beautiful scenery they roamed through in childhood, such as the trails around the Bibémus Quarry and Mont Saint-Victoire. There's a glimpse at the richness of color which he portrayed so well in his paintings, with that perfect balance of warm and cool colors. The movie didn't show the beautiful house he eventually inherited from his parents.
The film "Cézanne and I" explores Cézanne's character through the friendship and his relationship with others--wife, mother, father and others, and relates it to his art. Director Daniele Thompson picks up on the many mysteries of this relationship, the character of the artist and the personality of the man. Most of the film portrays Zola as less complicated and a little easier to understand as a person. Many people will want to see it to experience the landscape of Aix, which is beautiful. Criticism of the film comes from those who don't understand the dialogue, but again it helps to have some knowledge on the history of the friendship.
|Mont Saint-Victoire from Bibémus Quarry at the Baltimore Museum of Art|
In high school, I was given the assignment to choose an artist to study and try to paint in his style. I chose Cézanne and it was difficult. In grad school, I was required to read Émile Zola's novels, Nana and The Masterpiece. (The class was on Manet and Degas.) The Masterpiece is about an obsessive and frustrated artist who is also a bit of a failure. When it was published in the 1886, Cézanne interpreted it to be entirely about himself. The descriptions of their childhood wanderings together were true to life. I don't remember the book so well, but remember it reminding me more of Degas. By that time, Zola was a rip roaring success as a novelist, and was very prolific. Cézanne was 47 years old, but only knew rejection at that time. His recognition as an artist did not come until 10 years later -- when in his late 50s.
In reality, I had understood that Cézanne was so offended by the portrayal (parts of it are read in the film) that he would never speak to Zola again. In the movie, they are in contact again. From the film, I actually sympathize a great deal with both Cézanne and Zola. Zola claimed the artist was a composite of artists he had known. It doesn't help that he describes their childhood friendship pretty much as it was. The artist in his novel ends up killing himself, which certainly must have suggested to Cezanne the worthlessness of his artistic endeavors. However, the ending is consistent with Zola's style of naturalism which exposes the brutalities of life. As far as I know, none of the painters Zola knew actually took their own lives. In truth, Cezanne was never that satisfied with his own painting, even after he received some recognition.
|Bibémus Quarry, near Aix-en-Provence, one of the many landmarks the artist painted|
|The trails near Bibemus Quarry|
Cézanne was temperamental, as artists often are. It comes with the territory of obsessiveness. He was never satisfied with his work, and frequently tore up his paintings. It's the frustration that is expressed well about Lantier, the artist in Zola's novel. Cézanne actually died of pneumonia in 1906 -- on a mountaintop while painting. He stuck to his goals until the very end, but was never satisfied with his painting. He was 67.
Cézanne got along well with Camille Pissarro, the oldest of the Impressionists and somewhat of a mentor for all artists in the group. They had a strong rapport and mutual respect. Cézanne and Édouard Manet (my other favorite artist from the period) did not like each other. This lack of compatibility is curious to me because some of their artistic goals (the way they see form and structure) appear somewhat similar. Each is important for redefining the structure of painting through innovative means of composition that rejected traditional foreground, middleground and background. Both artists were from well-to-do backgrounds, but the elegant Manet, is known to have thought of Cézanne as ill-mannered and coarse. Both artists received much public derision and criticism, but the younger artists of the avant-garde loved Manet.
|A scene near Aix-en-Provence|
The movie even puts Cézanne next to the gorgeous Berthe Morisot, known for her refinement and close relationship to Manet. My personal impression is that Cézanne suffered from jealousy of Manet on many levels, especially since Manet was so admired by his fellow artists. His good friend Zola had written a well-known an important article in defense of Manet. Zola also defended Cézanne and the other artists who were Impressionists through his essays. However, the novel, The Masterpiece expressed less respect for their style than one might expect.
|Cézanne, Mme Cézanne in Yellow Armchair|
Art Institute of Chicago
Most of Cezanne's portraits are all about the structural and compositional qualities of the painting. They avoid feeling. The love and feeling we find in Cézanne is in his portrayal of nature particularly of portraits of the mountain he idolized, Mont Saint-Victoire.
I think his self-portraits are excellent because they capture the strong shapes with contrasts of color. From these we can trace the formal properties that lead to the Cubist style of Picasso and Braque. In these portraits, there is feeling -- the feeling of intensity and determination in his eyes.
Quality films about artists help us to understand how an artist's mind works. This film helps us understand the artist more through his relationships rather than through the art itself. (I personally have a hard time teaching Cézanne.) The theme of denying his feelings and not showing that he cared for others comes up again and again. It's a selfishness that is in pursuit of art, and/or, ego. Yet, if had been only about ego, Cézanne would have given up years earlier. He is an artist who died painting.
|Self-portrait, Winterthur Collection, Switzerland|
As for the writer's style, Zola is not closely akin to the Impressionists. Zola's writing is naturalism and he is important for describing things and the social classes with a gritty truth of lower class life. Impressionists were more inclined to overlook the brutal side of life. Renoir painted the working class of Montmartre, but idealized them--turning them into angels. Zola has more in common with Courbet and early Manet.