Cezanne: A Life

Frederick Brown writes:

As Alex Danchev shows in his engaging and well-researched biography, Cézanne himself spent his life fighting free of a father whose approval he never ceased to crave. He was five before his father married his mother. Not unlike Balzac’s Père Grandet, Louis-Auguste Cézanne, a shrewd entrepreneur who became rich through trade and banking, was a self-made man given to scoffing at public opinion. Paul’s sensibility did not earn high marks from his father. Submission followed by rage and then by self-doubt shaped his life; every departure from Aix ended with his coming home again, like a prisoner at the end of a rope, to collect his allowance and to lay his lack of success before Louis-Auguste. ‘Cézanne has many spells of discouragement,’ Zola observed in 1861, during Cézanne’s first spell in Paris, at the age of 22. ‘Despite the scorn he affects for glory, I see that he desires to succeed. When he does badly, he speaks of … returning to Aix and making himself a clerk in a commercial house.’ Zola also noted that Cézanne would stubbornly ignore criticism. Indeed, he built his most durable defences around his ‘faults’. His dishevelment, for example, brought frequent reprimands, but he remained unkempt; the mess a painter inevitably makes may have secretly been a compelling attraction.

(LRB 21 March 2013)

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