“Through the use of such distortions and rigidity of pose, Cézanne is able manipulate his female figures to attain greater control over their sexuality. In addition, in his Nudes in a Landscape (1900-1905), Cézanne’s confinement of his nudes becomes almost claustrophobic as he poses naked female figures in a dark valley amidst the constraints of a huge tree and its branches. Cézanne’s statue-like, inanimate women are posed so stiffly and positioned in such random directions in this picture that they appear like robotic creatures; Cézanne’s concerted effort to “freeze” his nude bathers represents his attempt to constrain their sensuality, and by extension, his own – reflecting the continued burden of his entrenched repressed sexuality.”
Paul Cézanne( 1839-1906) was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th century conception of artistic endeavor to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and the early 20th century’s new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism. The line attributed to both Matisse and Picasso that Cézanne “is the father of us all” cannot be easily dismissed.
What is also difficult to avoid is Cezanne’s own psychosis and how its manifestation through art, modern art, became part and parcel of the modern era. Although he may have been the “father” of modernism, the child and young man within was screaming and suffering from emotional afflictions that resulted in a repressed and pathological sexual repression seen in an attitude towards women that was highly disconcerting. In fact, the idea of this modern art being liberating to women, impacting men/women relationships in a positive way, can be seriously put into question. Emile Zola’s novel “The Masterpiece” was modeled after Cézanne, leading the painter to dissolve and renounce a long and intimate friendship; Zola’s narrative followed the downward spiral of a nineteenth-century impressionist painter:
Further, Zola’s presentation of Claude’s frustration and insecurity regarding his painting is reflective of Cézanne’s own lack of confidence as an artist and his dire fear of failure manifest in his continual reworking of his canvases. For example, in The Masterpiece, Zola depicts Claude’s internal struggle as an artist when he states: “…he began to slip back into his old fits of doubt…every picture rejected he pronounced bad…it was this feeling of impotence that exasperated him…What was really unbearable was the inability ever to express himself to the full because his genius refused to give birth to the essential masterpiece!” Zola further narrates,
“As his crises recurred more and more frequently, he would spend weeks in unbearable self-torture, hovering between hope and uncertainty, and through all the weary hours he spent wrestling with his rebellious masterpiece one great mainstay was the consoling dream of the picture which he would paint one day, when his hands were freed from their present invisible shackles, and which would satisfy him completely. Zola thereby characterizes Claude as impeded by “invisible shackles” in his efforts to paint his quintessential painting, analogous to the function of the angst and sexual repression that impacted upon Cézanne.
In addition, the problems that Cézanne faced regarding his relationships with women were also reflected in the character of Claude. In the beginning of the novel, Zola writes: “[Claude] never took women to his room. He treated them all as if he neither knew nor cared about them, hiding his painful timidity behind an exterior of bluster and off-handedness” . This description reminds us of the sexually repressed Cézanne who exhibited extreme difficulty with women. In fact, beginning on the second page of this novel, Zola points out that Claude “instinctively distrusted women” . Moreover, Zola continues to incorporate phrases like “his everlasting distrust of women…” and “his disdain for female opinion” in his description of Claude, which once again parallels Cézanne’s problems with women. Claude does develop a relationship with a woman named Christine who temporarily provides him with a respite from his inner turmoil and they have a son together who ultimately dies. Despite this domestic interruption of his life of as an artist, Claude soon returns to painting with all of his unbridled passion and turbulence. Claude’s obsession with the female idols on his canvases dramatically increases at the cost of withdrawal from the only real woman in his life. This situation is quite similar to that of Cézanne’s: Cézanne became involved with a woman named Hortense, had a son with her, and received only transient relief from his inner sexual conflict in this relationship.” ( Jessica Fields )
Interestingly, and revealingly, In Cezanne’s “Bathers” series, the male bathers are rarely placed together with female bathers in these paintings. This separation of the sexes was designed to exclude any trace of sensuality between men and women from Cézanne’s pictures. In contrast to his constrained portrayal of static female bathers , Cézanne’s depiction of male bathers eit more dynamic and animated poses and they are positioned in less constrained settings.
So, even in Cézanne’s mature period masterpiece The Large Bathers, it remains evident that his nude female bathers are still characterized by a restraint of eroticism through rigidity of pose and compactness of composition: Cézanne’s awkward, rigid, and compressed bathers continue to symbolize Cézanne’s repressed sexual desire evident in his earlier paintings in a more unbridled form. Yet, since Cézanne’s nude bathers are presented in less overt poses than his earlier nude females, it seems likely that painting throughout his lifetime provided some degree of catharsis for Cézanne and allowed him to temper the intensity of his feelings as mirrored in his art. Perhaps Cézanne’s positioning of his bathers actually depicted his hopes for a world where women would really be in harmony with nature,and specifically a world in which women would pose themselves right in the middle of the structure of his universe. Or perhaps Cézanne was actually trying to freeze them ; to contain them by trapping them in his canvases to confine them to his world. We will never know.
Nevertheless,and perhaps in spite of himself, his painting progressed, perhaps saved by a concentrating on trompe l’oeil elements and arrangements of mathematical and geometric collages. The landscapes from the 1870’s indicate how very thoroughly, yet always individually, Cezanne had absorbed the basic impressionist approach of recording the passing effects of light with tiny touches of dry pigment that tended to dissolve outlines. But in Cezanne’s landscapes, the underlying structure is always there in the short, vivid brush strokes.
In working out his own method, Cezanne increasingly took nothing for granted. Every inch of the canvas, every aspect of the composition, became a pictorial problem to be though out anew with dogged thoroughness. No one could have followed Pissarro,s advice to “portray what we see and forget what appeared before” with more minute care or a more radical vision. What he “saw” , the visible world, was but a starting point for Cezanne. He often referred to his paintings as “constructions after nature.”
Although it had never been particularly eventful, Cezanne,s life now became even less so as his concentration on his work became more and more absolute. In contrast to Zola’s existence, filled with friends, fame and fortune, Cezanne,s seems barren indeed. He did finally marry Hortense in 1886, probably to satisfy his family, who had discovered the liaison. But the marriage brought him no happiness and he began to live apart from Hortense and his son, whom he continued to love dearly all his life. He shut himself up for long periods in the seclusion of the Jas de Bouffan, an estate with a fine eighteenth-century manor that his father had bought on the outskirts of Aix over twenty years before. When not painting somewhere on the property itself, Cezanne would set off into the countryside he loved in search of a “motif.”
The most famous of these was the Mont Sainte-Victoire , the mysterious, almost oppressive mountain that dominates the Aixois countryside. Cezanne returned to it again and again, in drawing, watercolor, and oil, so that one comes almost to see it as a symbol of his striving in art: a monument both impossibly distant yet within reach, familiar yet standing outside the passage of time. He found this haunting landmark, so sensitive to changes of light, full of possibilities for demonstrating one of his principal preoccupations: rendering form and distance by color alone. There was no such thing as a “line” in nature, he felt, and therefore, he insisted it was impossible to render form by drawing outlines or create distance by linear perspective. “Drawing and color don’t exist separately,” he told Emile Bernard, “As you paint, you necessarily draw.”
In his constant concern that each tone be exactly the one required by the overall chromatic scheme of his paintings, Cezanne was seeking to render much more than the surface of things seen under a certain light. He desired, as he said, to make “out of impressionism something solid and durable like the art of the museums.” As one looks at the various versions of the Mont Sainte-Victoire, for example, one notices that underlying the intricate pattern of delicately modeled forms is a massive volume. Late in life Cezanne said that the artist “must see in nature the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone….” The phrase is eloquent proof of his own search for the means to discover the essence of a subject; be it a mountain, a figure group, a bowl of fruit.
Such an approach is, of course, a perfectly classical one. Nothing could be less “impressionistic” than Cezanne’s determination to make his scenes as internally coherent and changeless as possible. When he talked of doing “Poussin again, from nature,” he meant he aspired to his predecessors accomplishment of completeness and solidity, but by working directly from nature rather than by interpreting myths. How ironic that this innately classical painter long appeared to most of his contemporaries as a kind of savage obeying uncontrollable impulses.