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Cezanne’s Expression of His Dark Periods Through Art

Like many artists, Paul Cezanne had a dark side. The Frenchman had a reputation for being moody and having a temper and was known for often being depressed and melancholy. This negative perspective of the outside world would recur throughout Cezanne’s career and be reflected eloquently in his paintings.

This propensity towards dark thoughts, accompanied by his vividly expressive and emotional Impressionist style, resulted in some of the darkest and most foreboding paintings ever created. This resulted in a period in Cezanne’s career often referred to as the ‘Dark period.’

During this period, in particular, Cezanne began to embrace the approach of using a palette knife to stab his emotional brushstrokes deep into the canvas. This aggressive method and Cezanne’s masterful use of dark tones gave birth to a style of painting that would become synonymous with the movement of modern expressionism.

Self Portrait (1864)

A self-portrait is a great way to see inside an artist’s mind and study how they view themselves. It also highlights their perspective of reality. It is also the best way to see an artist’s mental state at a particular time in their life. For this reason, some psychiatrists have stated that painting a self-portrait can be the ultimate form of therapy.

Many of painter Cezanne’s paintings during this period were either portraits or self-portraits. Each portrait Cezanne painted in the dark collection consists of a profoundly depressive tone and can be seen as representing what is known in psychology as the ‘shadow self.’

This depressive emotion is most evident in Cezanne’s self-portraits. They are filled with an abundance of bleak eyes and blackness. The French artist would paint several even more disturbing portraits during this period, including portraits of skulls and even suggestions of the decapitation of heads.

The Murder (1868)

The Murder is famous painter Cezanne’s one of the Post-Impressionist paintings. But, unfortunately, it is one of his darkest also. It starkly depicts a nightmarish scene of two men murdering what looks to be a defenseless woman under a dark and brooding sky.

The painting represents Cezanne’s dark view of the world in its cruelty, with the murders representing unadulterated evil. The whole dark period collection is filled with haunted landscapes and soulless figures such as these.

There are also themes of nudity scattered throughout the collection and subtle impressions of loneliness, despair, and death. There are many great examples of Cezanne’s masterfully macabre mind during this period, including still-life, landscape, and portrait paintings.

The Hanged Man’s House (1873)

By 1870, Cezanne had started to move away from dark subjects and focus more on open landscape sceneries colored by cool and pale watercolors. However, some elements from his dark period would remain in many of his paintings.

Perhaps the finest example of this from what has become known as Cezanne’s ‘Mature’ period is the landscape painting entitled The Hanged Man’s House. The empty streets and claustrophobic paths that lead down to the hanged man’s house invoke an atmosphere of frightful loneliness and a feeling of suffocation.

Cezanne’s use of autumn colors and abstract angles perfectly embodies his dark philosophy. The painting was also personally significant to Cezanne as it was unveiled during the first Impressionist exhibition and was one of the first of Paul Cezanne drawings ever sold to a collector.

Harlequin (1890)

Harlequin – Paul Cezanne

Harlequin can be seen as Cezanne’s attempt at the symbology of the ‘sad clown.’ The sad clown is a recurring character throughout the history of art and humankind. The symbol takes on a whole host of different meanings, which can apply on both a personal and mass scale.

To many people, the sad clown represents having to put on a fake smile to others while you are hurting inside. But, unfortunately, this is an act that every one of us has done. Although the Harlequin is an entertainer and a comedian, ultimately, they are tragic characters.

In Cezanne’s famous drawing, the Harlequin dresses in a bright and colorful costume and is seemingly ready for a lively evening, yet their abrasive demeanor and forlorn gaze suggest otherwise. On a deeper level, the Harlequin is a self-portrait that all of us can relate to.

Pyramid of Skulls (1901)

For painter Paul Cezanne, representing the darker side of humanity would continue to be a theme right up until his last breath. Human skulls, in particular, would be a personal point of focus for the French artist as a representation of the fragility of life and a symbol of death.

Painter Cezanne dedicated many morbid paintings to depicting the human skull throughout his career. Perhaps the most famous one of these unsettling paintings is the pyramid of skulls painting he composed only two years before his death.

By this time, Cezanne was in bad health and knew his life would be coming to an end soon. He found himself working in almost total isolation during this time. This also contributed to the return of the topic of death in his paintings. The Pyramid of Skulls can be seen as Cezanne’s magnum opus and final goodbye to art and this world.

For post-impressionist artist Paul Cezanne, a tendency towards depression and a preoccupation with death plagued his mind throughout his life and paintings. Despite this, he still created some genuinely remarkable paintings and left a lasting impression on art that has seldom been surpassed.

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