Paul Cezanne, Chateau Noir, c1904
Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) is one of the most prominent painters of the late 19th century. He was the first painter to deconstruct the visual elements of his subjects, leading directly to Cubism and Modernism. Picasso called him "the father of us all." Cezanne used small brushstrokes and large swaths of color to build his forms, creating portrayals that are simultaneously soft and angular. Among his most famous subjects are his numerous still-lifes, particularly of apples. He also painted numerous portraits. I chose to write about Chateau Noir because it grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go. Cezanne painted several views of the Chateau Noir around this time. Like many of his late paintings, they are darker and less airy than his earlier landscapes, especially true of this piece. Instead of an open view of the subject, the trees occlude the house. The colors themselves are darker, and there is an unease at play here. The sky is not a pale, sunny blue, but purpled and heavy. The tree branches are angular and jagged, almost threatening. While the forms are rendered in a similar manner to Cezanne's earlier works, the indistinct character is no longer soft and warm, but hazy and foreboding. Although I am emphasizing the menacing aspects of the painting, there is also a pure beauty here that has nothing to do with the dark tonality of the work. Cezanne's skill is remarkable and his ability to communicate a fully realized vision of his subject is endlessly engaging. This is a deep meditation on the chateau, and perhaps on Cezanne's feelings about nature and his surroundings in general. The intensity of feeling that infuses every masterful brushstroke is what truly holds our gaze.