The Colours Whisperer

Cézanne paints, 1906. Ph.Kerr-Xavier Roussel

The Art Prints don’t reproduce faithful the magic of Paul Cézanne, the master of Aix-en-Provence. Even on coated paper, the colours of his paintings tend to look less bright than they are in reality. Ironically, just to him who made the attempt to reach the fullness of colour, the goal of his work.
The exhibition dedicated to him at Palazzo Reale, in Milan, from 20 October 2011 to 26 February 2012: Cézanne, les ateliers du Midi [1], was been a good opportunity for me to understand the path of this artist, who was able to be the most revolutionary among the Impressionists, despite having lived most of his life away from Paris.
Curated by Rudy Chiappini, the interior design by Corrado Anselmi, lighting design by Barbara Balestrieri and graphic design by dinamomilano, the exhibition offers early studies and tests, mythological subjects, still lifes, portraits, impressions painted en plein air, especially the mount Sainte-Victoire. Moreover, some videos documenting the life of the painter places. Above all, the light that animated them, and that was his inspiration. 

Paysage avec viaduct (mont Saint-Victoire),1886-1887, Museum of Modern Art, NY

Cézanne learned from Pissarro, who were his friends and with whom he painted, the idea that visual perception was the only way to transfer the reality on the canvas, avoiding intellectual superstructure. Today, this may seem obvious to us, but in those years, the French painters followed the current of Romanticism, who interpreted the Painting as a kind of “illustrated literary.” Delacroix himself, the most daring colour artist of the time, didn’t depart from the romantic subjects. Instead, surfaces, volumes, space, all in the end it would be a modulation of the Light. And the only way to represent the Light is through the Colour.
In the halls of Palazzo Reale, have been quoted, along with works on the walls, some statements of Cézanne, which summarize well his mind:

“ Everything in Nature is based on the sphere, the cone and the cylinder. One needs to learn using these simple figures, for afterwards one will be able to do anything.”

Nature morte avec sept pommes, 1877-1878_ Thaw Collection, NY; Source: the Yorck Project-DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH

 “Painting from Nature is not copying the subject, but recording sensations. “

“Look at these sugar bowls: continuously they nod to each other with reflections, as we do with looks.”

“One should not ‘model’; one should ‘modulate’ . “That is, the use of pigments by high tones, to have balanced by softer hues, combining the color spots into a coherent whole.

“ Drawing and Colour are not two distinct things… The more the Colour harmonizes, the more the Drawing defines.”

Portrait de Victor Choquet

Portrait de Victor Choquet, 1876-1877; Private collection_Source:The Yorck Project-DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH

” There is no line, there is no modellato [shaped drawing]; but only colour contrasts.

That’s, what structures a painting, wouldn’t be the shapes, but the relationship between the colours.

“ When Colour is its wealth, Form is its plenitude.”

According to his pupil Emile Bernard [2] who was also a famous painter, the colours used by Cézanne, were the following: 

Cézanne, January 1906. Ph. Kerr-Xavier Roussel

Chromium Yellow light, Naples Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow, Raw Sienna.

Vermilion, Red Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Carmine Red, Burnt Alizarin.

Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue.

Veronese’s Green, Emerald Green, Green Earth.


Of course, these colours were not used all at once: the palette of a painter, is limited to no more than 3 to 7 colours for one painting. The intermediate colours, ie, secondary or tertiary colors, are obtained from a mixture of these. This helps to ensure the chromatic harmony.
Those who know the work of Cézanne, see that in this list is missing the White. That it was the semi-opaque zinc white or the creamy biacca (a toxic white, made of basic lead carbonate, used for centuries), the ceramic cups and towels’ fabric of his still lifes, is painted with this hue, lying on a background of other colors. Instead, the reflections seemed to me often painted with Naples Yellow.
Likewise, Philip Ball, in his best-selling book already quoted in this blog [3], says that green most used by the artist, in the outdoor paintings, was actually Guignet’s Green (chromium hydroxide), a paint in vogue among the Impressionists. The curious thing is that this would be the only “modern” synthetic colour employed by him: so, who was one of the most radical experimenters of the colour of his time, would anyway still use the tested traditional pigments.

Nature morte avec panier de fruits, 1888-1890, Musée d'Orsay_Source: The Yorck Project-DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH

Featuring a huge sensitivity to the Colour – some say because of a defect of vision – he could never be completely satisfied with his work. He said: «I can not reach the intensity that is unfolded in front of my senses. I’m not available to the magnificence and richness of Colour that animates Nature. “
Paul Cezanne died at 67, following the complications of a congestion was taken to be surprised by a rainstorm, while painting outdoors. They brought him home, on the cart of a cloth merchant, lying between rolls of coloured cloth. He died a week later – before the Impressionists, no painter ran the risk of dying because of heavy weather –.
The following year, it was obtained justice for him, with a large retrospective exhibition at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. Fifty-six paintings that would have astounded and influenced a new generation of painters, including Picasso and Modigliani and represented a great source of inspiration for the artistic Avant-Gardes of the twentieth century.

Cézanne in his studio at Les Lauves, 1904_Ph. Émile Bernard, © Artnet

[2] Bernard Émile, “Ricordo Cézanne”, Skira, Milan, 2011
[3] Ball Philip, “Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour ”, University of Chicago Press, 2001



About liviusnotes

Architect, Graphic Illustrator, Drawing Teacher, Gentleman.
This entry was posted in Art, Colour, Exhibition and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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