Which French post-Impressionist painter claimed he wanted to “astonish Paris with an apple”?

And the answer: Paul Cezanne.  
Photo credit: public domain. 

Paul Cezanne was known for his still life paintings of fruit. He would arrange apples at eccentric angles and make sure every brush stroke was visible and textured. In 19th century France, his rough-hewn brush strokes were shocking to the art world and an inspiration for Cubist painters.

Cezanne began his artistic career like many other greats: by learning from the best. The Impressionist movement of 1870s Europe greatly inspired Cezanne, and the young artist found a home for his artistic style in the exciting, active brush strokes of Impressionist works. After attending the University of Aix in Aix-en-Provence, Cezanne accepted an invitation from Impressionist great Camille Pissarro to work with him in Pontoise, France. There, under the mentorship of Pissarro, Cezanne’s artistic strengths began to grow into his own, as he adapted Impressionist techniques. Reportedly, Pissarro persuaded Cezanne to turn away from the darker colors on his palette and gave him the following advice: "Always only paint with the three primary colors (red, yellow, blue) and their immediate deviations."

The artists took their work to Paris, where they attempted a salon-style show filled to the brim with Impressionist works. Yet, Cezanne’s participation created outrage. His work’s stylistic similarities with Impressionism—alongside the distinctly disjunct and fervent activity which the paintings depicted—confused and enraged many art critics and artists alike. ​​Edouard Manet himself, a leader and acclaimed painter in the Impressionist movement, declined participation in the salon show, for Cezanne was to him  "a mason who paints with a trowel” (ouch). The show was ultimately a failure, and marked one of the last times Cezanne would exhibit work alongside Impressionists.

As Manet, Pissarro, and Monet had done for Cezanne, Cezanne did for another generation of aspiring artists. Cezanne wanted his art to speak to people; to display the simplest things in life. Thus he performed what is known as “geometric simplification” in his paintings and drawings: using perspective and place to individually emphasize the shapes which comprise an image. Cezanne's investigation of geometric simplification inspired numerous painters of the 20th century to try different techniques, including Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

Learn more about Cezanne’s life and legacy here.

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