Painted in 1900, The Large Bathers is one of the last artworks of Cezanne’s astonishing creative career. Known in French as Les Grandes Baigneuses, the painting secured Cezanne’s place in the canon of French post-impressionist painters.
Despite its subsequent fame, Cezanne’s personal intentions for the artwork are uncertain.
We know he longed to produce a timeless painting however, one that stood above the vagaries of fashion and painterly techniques. As such, Cezanne discarded academic and artistic tradition, blazing his own creative trail.
Notwithstanding Cezanne’s ambitions to create a “timeless” painting, he did draw-upon the rich history of nudes in idealized, pastoral landscapes.
Originating with Renaissance masterpieces by the likes of Titian and Botticelli, this unique genre witnessed an upheaval with painters such as Manet and Renoir. Artworks such as Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe particularly represent these new, modern and scandalous pastoral nudes.
Unlike these artists however, Cezanne did not seek controversy, nor did he depict mythological narratives (like those in Titian’s Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto). Instead, Cezanne purely presents female figures in an unspecified, dream-like landscape.
The eleven women relax in a woodland glade beneath a beautifully blue sky. Several figures have their backs towards the viewer, creating an impression of voyeurism. It’s as if we’ve stumbled accidentally across this magical scene.
Furthermore, the strong diagonal lines of the womens’ bodies draw the viewer’s gaze towards the center of the picture and deeper into their mysterious world.
In the artwork, Cezanne flattens and compresses traditional perspective. This was a common technique amongst Paul Cezanne oil paintings. Indeed, perspective is similarly manipulated in other dream-like artworks such as Paul Cezanne Pierrot and Harlequin (1888).
The exact characteristics of The Large Bathers is a topic of intense scholarly debate.
It possesses a strangely beautiful atmosphere due to the gentle blue tones of the landscape. Amongst Paul Cezanne Bathers, this artwork is particularly notable for the dappled use of blue tones.
This represents the shifting light of French Provence, as well as connecting the women firmly with their surroundings. Depicting each figure with a striking blue and black outline, Cezanne links the women with the trees and sky behind.
A soft haze envelops the entire scene, in which sky, water, people and plants merge into one cohesive whole. Despite this unified impression, the abstracted and fully nude female figures provide density, monumentality and tension to the artwork.
The Large Bathers is a prime example of Paul Cezanne’s post-impressionist paintings.
Championed in France between 1886 and 1905, post-impressionist painters prized symbolic content and abstracted color. They utilized vivid hues and emphasized geometric forms, with paint often applied in a thick, impasto manner.
In the post-impressionist movement, bodies distort to heighten artistic expression. Natural scenes are also represented with unusual shapes, lines and colors. Of course, all these elements are evidenced in Paul Cezanne artwork and The Large Bathers in particular.
Despite this theoretical background, Cezanne’s distortions of the womens’ bodies may also be partly due to his difficulties with figure-drawing. Cezanne confided in his artist friend Emile Bernard that he was too shy to hire “real life” nude models for his paintings. Instead, he relied on memory from trips to galleries and museums.
Whatever the reason, Cezanne’s figures are as solid and as natural as the landscape they inhabit. They form a perfect celebration of nature and our unique place within it.
Paul Cezanne was born in Aix-en-Provence in 1839. He came from a wealthy banking family and enjoyed financial security. Cezanne never had to endure the life of a struggling artist, unlike so many of his peers.
Cezanne was a French Post-Impressionist artist whose paintings and technique had a significant influence on so many artists who superseded him. His work is acknowledged to have led the path to Cubism and opened the door to Modern Art.
Whilst at college in Aix, Cezanne became acquainted with Emile Zola who encouraged him to move to Paris and to concentrate on an artistic life. In Paris he formed a friendship with Camille Pissarro and together they painted the most beautiful landscape oil paintings of Pontoise and Louveciennes, France.
The Salon des Refuses displayed paintings which had not been accepted by the Official Paris Salon and many of Cezanne's paintings were exhibited there. However, he finally gained recognition by the Salon with the acceptance of Portrait of Louis-Auguste Cezanne; the Artist's Father Reading painted in 1886. This was his only successful submission to the Salon.
During his lifetime, Paul Cezanne is thought to have painted some 900 oil on canvas paintings and 400 watercolors. Cezanne famous paintings are collected extensively and are in both public and private collections worldwide.
The Card Players series consists of five of paintings. The Courtauld Gallery holds two, one of which is The Card Players 1892-96. The Card Players 1890-96 is on view at New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Boy in a Red Vest by Paul Cezanne is also known as The Boy in the Red Waistcoat 1889. It is considered Cezanne's finest portrait paintings and was featured in the America TV series Scandal.
It estimated that there are around 30 Cezanne oil paintings of Montagne Sainte-Victoire which are some of his more famous landscapes. The Montagne Sainte-Victoire is located in the South of France and overlooks Aix-en-Provence. The Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings reveal geometric forms and in later paintings the colors appear darker and richer. The paintings were completed between the period 1882 and 1906.
Cezanne's oil on canvas painting Mont Sainte-Victoire 1902-04 is a beautiful Cezanne painting with the mountain in the background with the sun casting a glow on a landscape of houses in the foreground.
A later version, Mont Sainte Victoire c1904-06 is on permanent loan to Princeton Museum from the Pearlman Foundation.
Quarry and Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from the Bibemus is held by the Hermitage Museum Saint Peterburg, Russia. This painting views the mountain from a closer perspective.
Vanitas art contains inanimate objects which symbolize death. Two famous vanitas paintings by Cezanne are Three Skulls, c1900 and The Pyramid of Skulls c1901. Cezanne was a devout Catholic and these two paintings were completed in the aftermath of his mother's death and demonstrate his preoccupation with morbidity at this time.
Of Paul Cezanne still life paintings, Still Life with Curtain and Flowered Pitcher 1895 is considered his greatest. This oil on canvas painting is held by the Hermitage Museum in their European Fine Art collection.
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