The Artist’s Father, Reading “L’Événement” by Paul Cezanne

“Art has a harmony which parallels that of nature…”

This is a seemingly simple composition by Paul Cezanne, the artist best-known for his dynamic and colorful still lives. Here we see a man with his newspaper, sitting in an oversized arm chair against a dark background. He is not looking at us, but instead seems relaxed and focused on his newspaper.

The portrait is of the painter’s father, Louis-Auguste Cezanne, a banker with whom Paul Cezanne had a very tense relationship as the father never approved of his son’s chosen profession of an artist, finding it “grossly impractical”. The young Cezanne rejected his family’s calls for following in his father’s footsteps and instead took up studying art. Their relationship was never a cordial one after that. Notice how Cezanne positioned the figure precariously close to the edge of the seat, almost allowing him to tip over? And look at the extended right leg of the chair and how it’s position on the floor plane – the floor too looks tilted forward, giving the impression of the figure sliding towards the viewer. This shifted and broken equilibrium was Cezanne’s way of illustrating that very unease and tension between him and his father.

The newspaper L’Evénement refers to novelist Emile Zola, the childhood friend who championed Cezanne’s bid to study art in Paris and who became art critic for the paper in 1866, the year this painting was completed. Cezanne’s father customarily read another publication.

Paul Cezanne  was a pioneer of color theory, whose works inspired many generations of artists including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Cy Twombly, Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn and others. Cezanne emphasized the importance of regarding Line, Color and Form – key aspects of painting as one, and one that the human eye sees in every situation.

The Artist’s Father, Reading “L’Événement”, 1866 is on view at The National Gallery in Washington D.C.

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