Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: The Bathers by Paul Cézanne

Kate Wojtczak 20 January 2019 min Read

When little Paul was born on 19th January 1839 nobody could expect that he will revolutionize painting with developing a unique style and influence a whole generation of artists. Let’s have a look at one of Cézanne’s last paintings – The Bathers.

Cézanne is said to have formed the bridge between late 19th-century Impressionism and the early 20th century’s new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism. Both Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that Cézanne “is the father of us all.” Before all that happened, however, the painter had spent a peaceful childhood and youth years in the beautiful scenery of Provance. One of his school friends was the novelist Émile Zola.

Cézanne, The Bathers
Paul Cézanne, The Bathers, 1898–1905, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, United States. Wikimedia Commons

His father’s fortune gave him a rare opportunity among artists in that time to freely develop his style without worrying about the financial issues. In 1861 he left Aix-en-Provence for Paris to join Zola who was already living in the capital at the time. He made friends with Camille Pissarro and showed his works in the first exhibition of the Salon des Refusés two years later. Despite the increasing public recognition and financial success, Cézanne was quite often coming back to Southern France to paint. He concentrated on a few subjects and was equally proficient in each of these genres: still lifes, portraits, landscapes and studies of bathers.

Our painting of the week, The Bathers or Les Grandes Baigneuses kept in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is considered to be one of the finest works of Cézanne. He worked on this large painting for almost seven years and actually has never finished it. The artist created many similar scenes during his career but this last painting, because of its size called sometimes also Large Bathers, seems to be the quintessence of Cézanne’s painting abilities and talent. With each version of the Bathers, Cézanne moved away from the traditional presentation of paintings by simplifying forms and geometricizing the composition lying a strong foundation for Cubism and abstract art.

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