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The French painter Paul Cezanne, who exhibited little during his lifetime and pursued his work in increasing isolation, is regarded today as one of the great forerunners of modern painting.
Paul Cezanne was born in Aix, a small city in Provence, France. His father, Philippe Auguste, was a banker and very watchful over family accounts. A strict authoritarian, Philippe Auguste was opposed to Paul's artistic goals and their father-son relationship was strained. On the other hand, his sister Marie and his mother were devoted to him and encouraged young Paul to paint. His mother told him about the Dutch Masters, such as Rembrandt and Rubens, and supplied him with his first box of paints.
At age 13, Paul was sent to College Bourbon, pleased to escape his father. It was at school he met and became fast friends with Emile Zola. This friendship was decisive for both men. Zola was not a native of Provence, which caused him to be ostracized by his fellow classmates. But Cezanne felt a kindred spirit in Zola and ignored the taunts of the other students. Zola dreamed of writing and Cezanne dreamed of painting.
Still unsure of himself and his future, Cezanne studied law from 1859 to 1861, but continued attending drawing classes at the same time. Against the wishes of his father, Paul finally made up him mind that painting was the profession he most wanted. So, in 1861, he joined Zola in Paris. His father's reluctant consent at the time brought him financial support and later a large inheritance on which he could live comfortably.
In Paris he met Camille Pissaro and came to know others of the Impressionist group of artists, with whom he exhibited his work in 1874 and 1877. The reviews of his work were not good and Cezanne remained an outsider to the Impressionist circle. He eventually rejected what he considered the Impressionists' lack of structure, declaring his intention to make Impressionism into "something solid and durable, like the art of museums."
The year 1886 was a pivotal year for Paul Cezanne. He married Hortense Fiquet, a model with whom he had been living for a number of years, and his father died. Perhaps more significant, that year was the publication of the novel L'Oeuvre by his great friend Emile Zola. The hero of the story is a painter (acknowledged to be a composite of Manet and Cezanne) who Zola presented as an artistic failure. Cezanne took this representation personally and was bitterly hurt by the incident. He never spoke to his friend Zola again.
In the years following 1886, the painter secluded himself more and more away from friends, at the family home in Aix. Supported by independent means, he produced still lifes, landscapes, and portraits. His works underwent continual adjustment, many required such prolonged reworking that he never considered them finished.
As an artist, Cezanne matured slowly. Art scholars maintain his greatest works were completed during the last 25 years of his life. In particular, the evolution of cubism and abstraction are due to his innovations. Since 1890, his work influenced nearly every avant-garde movement in painting.
Several days after being caught in a rainstorm, Paul Cezanne died on October 22, 1906. His life had been plagued with personal and professional failures. By the time of his death, a few of his works were being shown across Europe.
In the end, Cezanne triumphed, forging the principles of Modern 20th century art. It was only after his death that hindsight proved to all the world the enormity of his genius by proclaiming him the "father of modern art."