PAUL CEZANNE: THE CARD PLAYERS SERIES
There were five versions of The Card Players produced during the 1890s at
Aix. The Louvre version, reproduced below, with two players (and a bottle
between them to mark the center of the symmetrically balanced composition)
could be looked on in the abstract as a magnificent rendering of solid forms,
given their appearance of structure by the gradated areas of the thinly applied
color. But the fact remains that these are not abstractions but peasant card
players in his native Provence. Whether by the sheer veracity of his study
of facial planes or through some feeling of kinship with the solid countrymen
he was portraying, Cézanne has made them live.
c. 1890-92 (140 Kb); Oil on canvas, 17 3/4 x 22 1/2 in; Musée d'Orsay,
Cézanne is an artist's artist. He was obsessed with
form rather than content, so subject matter was always secondary to the act
of painting itself. He wanted the methods and skills of the painter to be
more important than the image. That meant the subject of the painting couldn't
be so dynamic as to overshadow the artist's act of creation. The more he concentrated
on this, the less viewer-friendly his works became. But that suited his personality
just fine. His goal was not to have a mass audience or sales appeal, it was
to satisfy himself.
Cézanne was a brooding, complex man, given to rages,
grudges and depressions. He had few friends, and those he had he alienated.
Even when success finally caught up with him, he was dogged by feelings of
inadequacy. The most famous of his friends was his schoolmate and writer Emile
Zola, who was everything Cézanne wasn't -- charming, eloquent, sociable
and successful at an early age. Zola was art critic, novelist and Cézanne's
mentor. The artist looked at him for strength but gave nothing in return.
Zola got tired of placating Cézanne's ego, and in later years, when
Zola wrote The Masterpiece of an unfulfilled artist who eventually killed
himself, Cézanne was convinced that the author had him in mind. He
was so egocentric and so paranoid, he assumed everyone would know Zola was
writing about him. The reality was that no one knew about him at all, but
the novel still destroyed their friendship.