Cézanne and the Dandies

Paul Cézanne. Self-portrait. 1875.

From Jeffrey Meyers’ Impressionist Quartet (p. 168):

The Impressionists had social as well as artistic differences, and the less well off were more Bohemian. Though Paul Cézanne came from a prosperous family in Aix, he adopted a defiant pose, exaggerated his southern accent, and wore a battered old hat, blue worker’s overalls and a coarse coat spattered with brush marks. Approaching Manet in the Café Guerbois, he’d aggressively explain: “I am not offering you my hand, M. Manet, I haven’t washed for a week.” Cézanne’s refusal to extend his dirty hand could have been a deferential gesture to the elegant Manet or, more likely, a self-conscious mockery of his dandyism. Though Degas felt democratic solidarity with dancers and workers, he was alienated from some of his fellow artists. He asked the well-born Gustave Caillebotte, when referring to Monet and Renoir: “Do you invite those people to your house?”

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5 Responses to Cézanne and the Dandies

  1. tomrobertstennessee says:

    Cezanne was a mystical painter. His earlier works through the 1860’s-various portraits of his family, some scenes of mythology and, later, the thick impasto painting of his dwarf friend-did not separate Cezanne from other painters. They were rough, experimental, labored and self-conscious. Something happened to Paul Cezanne in his life as a painter after those works. He had a personality transformation or an awakening in his vision. Maybe it was through his association with the brilliant Pissaro, or maybe his disciplined work ethic engendered an enormous leap forward in his mastery of seeing and painting.
    When viewing Cezanne retrospectives, I feel overwhelmed with the mystical beauty that overtakes his canvases beginning in the late 1860’s or early 1870’s. Subject matter means nothing. All his paintings after that are about Paul Cezanne’s unique vision. His still life paintings with apples have nothing to do with apples; they are rich, balanced tapestries reflecting his incredible ability to see and capture the divine quality of his vision. His landscapes are living reflections of his gaze. His self-portraits demonstrate his unsentimental ability to see color, form, light, balance, contrast and something uncanny and indescribable that makes a Cezanne painting.
    I believe that Paul Cezanne lived as a semi-recluse and exhibited a disingenuous, crabby nature toward his peers because his entire life was dedicated to the experience of painting. Everything else, including the dandy artists, were distractions.

  2. Mark Willis says:

    Is this 1875 self-portrait one of the products of his awakening as a painter?

  3. tomrobertstennessee says:


  4. tomrobertstennessee says:

    Mark, the following is from a dialogue among curators and art historians during the Cezanne retrospective in Philadelphia, 1996.
    PAUL SOLMAN: The German poet Raynor Maria Rilka saw in Cezanne still lifes the net effect of all this effort, an almost mystical experience put into paint. “He lays his apples down on bedspreads,” wrote Rilka, “that his housekeeper certainly misses one day, and puts his wine bottles among them, and whatever he happens to find, and like Van Gogh, makes his saints out of things like that, and compels them, compels them to be beautiful, to mean the whole world and all happiness and all glory.” Of course, not everyone waxes quite so poetic when it comes to Paul Cezanne, even these days, as we found out in Philadelphia.

  5. Mark Willis says:

    Interesting notion - “compels them to be beautiful.” In my case you could say “compels them to be seeable.” That must be what I mean when I say “presence” or “salience” about visual art.

    I tend to trust everything Rilke says with regard to art. He talks about what is compelling in his first Letter to a Young Poet:

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