Museum  November 10, 2020  Chandra Noyes

Cézanne: Bridging Impressionism and Cubism

Created: Tue, 11/10/2020 - 10:18
Author: chandra

Though a contemporary of the great Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) had his own distinctive style and interests. In his own careful examinations of his subject matter, be it the natural world, a portrait sitter, or a still life, Cézanne was more interested in the geometric shapes and perspectives he noticed than many of his friends and colleagues were. His structured approach to painting and his subjects lead modern art from the Impressionism of artists like Monet to the Cubism of Picasso and others.

A new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston puts great works by Cézanne in context. By showing them side-by-side with works from the same time period, we can see just how different and revelatory his paintings were and continue to be. Cézanne: In and Out of Time (November 11, 2020–February 28, 2021) brings together twelve of his greatest works, allowing a close examination of his style and its influence.

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1931 Purchase Fund, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Degas painting of a horse carriage and people in a green pasture

Edgar Degas, At the Races in the Countryside, 1869. Oil on canvas.

Though frequently identified as an Impressionist, Edgar Degas did not like the term and thought of himself as a realist. He did not paint en plein air as much as his peers did, and in this painting, we can see how he captured the lightness and energy of other Impressionists in his own unique style. Degas would be an inspiration to Cézanne, who also broke the mold in his own works.

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Juliana Cheney Edwards Collection, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Pissarro landscape

Camille Pissarro, Sunlight on the Road, Pontoise, 1874. Oil on canvas.

Another inspiration was Camille Pissarro, his first major teacher and later a close friend. The two became peers and painted together at Pontoise and other locations in the French countryside. Though working outdoors necessitates quick work, Cézanne would note, “I am progressing very slowly, for nature reveals itself to me in very complex forms.”

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Tompkins Collection—Arthur Gordon Tompkins Fund, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Cezanne painting of women in the grass beside a pond

Paul Cézanne, The Pond, about 1877–79. Oil on canvas.

Pissarro encouraged his pupil to take on a lighter, brighter palette. While this painting is an excellent example of Impressionism and is reminiscent of Pissarro, Cézanne would soon move on to a style more distinctly his own.

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Bequest of John T. Spaulding, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Cezanne landscape

Paul Cézanne, Turn in the Road, about 1881. Oil on canvas.

Turn in the Road shows the artist delving into the explorations of perspective that would come to define his work. The curving road and multiple angles of the buildings clearly evoke the winding streets of a small French town, making this cityscape realistic but subtly distorted. Multiple vantage points are shown at once, giving the composition the feeling that we are moving through it.

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Bequest of John T. Spaulding, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Manet still life of fruits in a basket on a table

Edouard Manet, Basket of Fruit, about 1864. Oil on canvas.

Cézanne’s approach to still lifes was similar. Artists like Edouard Manet were creating Impressionistic tableaux using loose, expressive brushstrokes and emphasizing colors and feelings over realistic imagery.

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Bequest of John T. Spaulding, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Cezanne still life of a plate of fruit on a blue table with a water jug behind it

Paul Cézanne, Fruit and a Jug on a Table, about 1890–94. Oil on canvas.

Meanwhile, Cézanne was carefully analyzing the textures and colors of his subject matter, focusing more on the details than perhaps the overall composition. While other contemporary works invite us to get lost in a world of brushstrokes, Cézanne draws us into his compositions, demanding that we examine the geometric details that fascinated him.


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Bequest of John T. Spaulding, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Renoir still life of colorful flowers in a blue and white crock

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mixed Flowers in an Earthenware Pot, about 1869. Oil on paperboard mounted on canvas.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Mixed Flowers in an Earthenware Pot seems quite traditional when compared to Cézanne’s works. Considered a founder of Impressionism, like his contemporaries, Renoir worked to capture scenes through quick impressions and flitting brushstrokes. Though the two men painted together, their outcomes were strikingly different.

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Private Collection/Bridgeman Images, Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Cezanne still life of fruit in a white bowl on a tan table

Paul Cézanne, Nature morte de pêches et poires (Still life with Peaches and Pears), about 1885-87. Oil on canvas.

In his Still life with Peaches and Pears, we can clearly see how unique Cézanne’s approach was. Using vibrant colors and methodical brushstrokes, this painting is captivating for its subtle distortion of perspective. The bowl of fruit is shown viewed from above, while the pear, casting an incongruous shadow, is shown from the side. The tabletop is similarly off. While retaining realism, Cézanne’s chiseled brushstrokes and insistence on multiple vantage points paved the way for the dramatic Cubism that Pablo Picasso would be famous for.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is the former Managing Editor for Art & Object.