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Who is the father of modern art?

The round and angular shapes in "The Basket of Apples" demonstrates Cezanne's formalist approach

PABLO PICASSO called him "My one and only master." Paul Cézanne has been variously called "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."

Cézanne was born on January 19, 1839, in Aix-en-Provence to a successful retailer and his mistress Honorine Auburt who did not marry till Cézanne was five. Cézanne attended Bourbon College where he met Emile Zola, with whom he forged an almost life-long friendship. The friendship broke up in 1886 when Emile Zola (by then a famous writer) published the novel L'Oeuvre. Cézanne was sure the main character in book, of a failed artist, was a reference to him.

Cézanne studied law and was a good student, but his heart lay in art. He moved to Paris where his first foray was met with disaster. He returned home after six months convinced he could not paint.

After helping his father for a year, he decided to give painting another shot and worse was to follow when he failed in the entrance test at the official painting school - the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. When Cézanne was thirty, he met Hortense Fiquet who became his mistress. After the birth of his son, he moved to Pontoise, where he met Pissarro who introduced him to the impressionist school. Cézanne went beyond the impressionist doctrine as he strived to create "something solid and durable, like the art of the museums."

Three phases

There are three distinct periods in Cézanne's work - the early romantic period that was extremely personal, harsh with heavy paintwork, the constructive period with its grouping of parallel, hatched brushstrokes and the late phase where he concentrated on basic subjects, still lives of studio objects.

Cézanne who wanted to "conquer Paris with an apple" is an artist's artist. He was obsessed with the act of painting. As he said, "Painting stands for no other end than itself. The artist paints an apple or a head: it is simply a pretext for line and colour, nothing more."

In the later years, Cézanne became a recluse, and on October 22, 1906, he died after contracting pneumonia. It was Cézanne's use of geometric form and disjointed perspective that inspired cubism and abstract art. Art historian Lawrence Gowing wrote, "Cézanne was reaching out for a kind of modernity which does not exist, and still does not."


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