Still life painting by Paul Cézanne.

Still life painting by Paul Cézanne.

The mid-19th century art world was transformed by a group of French impressionist painters. These men revolutionized the conventional Paris salon, which was slow to recognize their collective genius. Among them was Paul Cezanne, who grew up in southern France. An artistic late bloomer, Cezanne didn’t decide to become a painter until age 21. He was tormented by self-doubt and an obsessive drive to paint what he called “truth.” Rejected by the Paris salon for 40 years, Cézanne is now considered one of the greatest painters who ever lived. A new biography on the life and art of Paul Cézanne.


  • Alex Danchev Professor of international relations at University of Nottingham and author of "On Art and War and Terror" and "100 Artists' Manifestos."

Photo Gallery: Paul Cezanne Through The Years

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from “Cezanne” by Alex Danchev. Copyright © 2012 by Alex Danchev. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


  • 10:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. French impressionist Paul Cezanne painted more than 950 works of art. He's considered one of the greatest painters of all time, but most of his success came after his death in 1906. Rejected by the Paris Salon for most of his life, he sold paintings only to close friends and fellow artists.

  • 10:07:24

    MS. DIANE REHMIn a new biography, author Alex Danchev writes about Cezanne's struggle with self doubt, his revolutionary technique, and the family he kept secret. Alex Danchev joins me from a studio at WBEZ in Chicago. I hope you'll join us as well. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir, and welcome.

  • 10:07:59

    MR. ALEX DANCHEVGood morning. Thank you.

  • 10:08:00

    REHMGood to have you with us. Alex Danchev, you are a professor of international relations. I'm fascinated that you've chosen to write this biography of the life of Cezanne.

  • 10:08:17

    DANCHEVWell, I tried to combine the realms of art, broadly speaking, and politics and history and international relations, broadly speaking. It seems to me that artists have something to tell us that other people can't or don't, and I want to try and explore that.

  • 10:08:38

    REHMAnd your book begins with the Autumn Salon in Paris in 1907. Can you talk about that?

  • 10:08:51

    DANCHEVYes. The Salon was the annual exhibition in Paris -- the annual exhibition in Paris, I suppose, and the 1907 one is special because it was the first ever exhibition of Cezanne's work in Paris in strength. So there were 56 Cezanne paintings, which was probably at that stage more Cezannes than anyone had ever seen. Cezanne had died the previous year. So this was, in effect, the first retrospective exhibition, the first posthumous exhibition. And everyone went from all over Europe, from the United States, from all over the world. Some people went every day.

  • 10:09:42

    REHMAnd why, up until that point, had his work been rejected by the Salon?

  • 10:09:54

    DANCHEVI think partly because of the way he painted, and partly because of the life he lived. He painted, I guess, like nobody had ever painted before. It seemed to, to many people, that they were seeing something very strange when they were looking at a Cezanne painting. Things might be at an odd angle. He said of himself that he was a painter by inclination, which was partly his little joke, I think, an acknowledgment that things in Cezanne paintings tended to lean in unexpected ways.

  • 10:10:38

    DANCHEVThe colors were strange. Trees might be blue. Sky might be green. He mixed them up. He paid attention to every part of the canvas so the bottom right corner might be tremendously important in a Cezanne painting and not the middle. And he painted everything. He painted apples like other people painted kings. So Cezanne paintings looked strange, bizarre, and I think that was part of the problem that people had with him. But that was also the fascination of them.

  • 10:11:17

    REHMBut you also talked about the life he lived as being another aspect of the rejection of the Salon. What kind of life?

  • 10:11:34

    DANCHEVYes. Cezanne came from Aix-en-Provence in the south, and he came to Paris only rarely. He lived a kind of elusive, almost barbarian life, in the sense that he didn't like to take part in the Salon -- the café society. Café wit bored him. He lived outside a lot. He walked enormously. He walked all over the place. So he became a kind of tramp almost...

  • 10:12:15


  • 10:12:17

    DANCHEV...a sort of outsider figure, a legendary figure, because painters in particular heard that he was doing something extraordinary. But very few of them had met him, and very few of them understood him.

  • 10:12:33

    REHMNow, when you talk about his becoming almost a tramp, the ideas in my mind go back then to his childhood and what was going on there that could possibly have moved him in that direction, that is to be free, to be outside, to be without boundaries.

  • 10:13:03

    DANCHEVYes. He had a very good education in Aix. He was probably the best educated, certainly the most intelligent European painter of his generation. This is a man who had studied the classics profoundly, who translated Latin and Greek in his spare time. He read Virgil for example, Lucretius, all the classical poets all his life. He read current French literature. He knew much of Baudelaire by heart. He read poetry with a passion, and one of the people that he went to school with, his greatest school friend, was Zola, the French novelist.

  • 10:13:51

    REHMEmile Zola.

  • 10:13:53

    DANCHEVYes. And these two men grew up tremendously close, the best of friends. So on the one hand, there is the Cezanne who roams the countryside, who is, as you say, exactly free, untrammeled, unbound by convention. And on the other hand, here is a man who is tremendously intelligent, well-read, witty, ironic. People did not know how to take him, I think. They didn't know often whether he was being serious or whether he was being funny.

  • 10:14:31

    REHMAnd yet, even as you talk about the odd angles, the colors, the use of every part of the canvas, what is it that you believe there is or was in Cezanne's temperament that made his paintings so great?

  • 10:14:56

    DANCHEVI think for Cezanne, painting was a way -- the way of truth telling, of revealing the truth to us in a way that it had not been revealed before. So for Cezanne, it was a matter of tremendous importance to paint in the way that he saw, but also the way that he felt. He tried to communicate what he felt about things, I think, and that meant that he painted the same things over and over and over again because he felt slightly different about them on any given occasion. So there are 40 paintings of the famous mountain near his home, the Mont Sainte-Victoir near Aix.

  • 10:15:59

    DANCHEVThere are dozens of paintings of apples, of pears, of still life. There are dozens of paintings of his wife, of himself. He was one of the world's greatest self-portraitists. But I think in the end he felt that he could try to capture the world, to remake the world if you like, with a brush stroke or two. Renoir, his great contemporary, said, how does he do it? He has only to put one dab of color on a canvas, and it's already something.

  • 10:16:34

    REHM"Cezanne: A Life" is the biography by Alex Danchev we're talking about. If you'd like to join us, call us now, 800-433-8850. Please know that if you do go to, we have a number of Cezanne's paintings, reproductions, on our website, and "Basket of Apples" is on our show page. You know, you talked about his self-portraits. In this book, Alex Danchev, there are numerous self-portraits. Why do you think he did so many?

  • 10:17:30

    DANCHEVI think he was fascinated by his own appearance, by the passage of time, also perhaps by the thought that in this way he could commune with previous masters. Cezanne liked Chardin, for example.

  • 10:17:55


  • 10:17:56

    DANCHEVHe liked Rembrandt. And I think that he felt that by doing self-portraits in the way that they had, he formed a sort of link in a chain. He talks about it in those terms at one stage. So, on the one hand, he wanted to paint as no one had painted before. He wanted to create a new way of painting, but on the other hand, he wanted to stand on the shoulders of previous masters.

  • 10:18:32

    REHMAlex Danchev, he's professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham in England. His new book it titled "Cezanne: A Life." And we'll take a short break here and be right back.

  • 10:20:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. Alex Danchev joins me by ISDN and Skype from WBEZ in Chicago. And we're talking about his brand new biography of Cezanne and his extraordinary life and art. Cezanne, as you've said in the book, was a late bloomer. Alex, why was it that he had no artistic training as many of the young artists of the day did by working as an apprentice? He did none of that. Why do you think the art became such a passion for him considering the breadth of his education?

  • 10:21:04

    DANCHEVHis father wanted him to be a lawyer. And when he left school, in obedience to the father, he started out in law school.

  • 10:21:14


  • 10:21:15

    DANCHEVBut he couldn't stand it and left after a year in disobedience of his father.

  • 10:21:20

    REHMWho can blame him?

  • 10:21:22

    DANCHEVIndeed. There's a nice joke later on in his life where he calls himself a doctor of law, the great painter.

  • 10:21:27


  • 10:21:29

    DANCHEVSo he -- I think he didn't know at first exactly what he wanted to do or how he wanted to do it. He tried twice, I believe, to get into the school in Paris, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and twice he was rejected.

  • 10:21:51

    REHMHuh. Because he had no formal training?

  • 10:21:55

    DANCHEVYes, probably he was too undisciplined even at that early stage. He said himself that he couldn't put it all together, that -- he said, when a head interests me, I make it too big. And it's true that whenever he got intensely interested in any given part of the body or any given thing, he tended to make it too big. Listeners may like to try this out by looking at portraits he made or pictures that he made and see if they can spot that effect. So he never had a very good art school training. He had a little in Aix, but never in Paris.

  • 10:22:40


  • 10:22:41

    DANCHEVAnd above all, he never had an apprenticeship, as you say, with a major painter as many of the great painters did, Manny, for example. And I think he always regretted that.

  • 10:22:53


  • 10:22:54

    DANCHEVBut it meant -- sorry.

  • 10:22:55

    REHMNo, go ahead. Forgive me.

  • 10:22:58

    DANCHEVI was just going to say that I think that meant that it took him even longer to acquire the necessary techniques and discipline and practice. And a lot of that came with his friendship with Pissarro, the great impressionist. Pissarro recognized Cezanne's genius from the outset in a way that many other people did not. And the two men became great friends. And Cezanne stood by Pissarro later on when he, Pissarro, was shunned by many of his fellows because he was Jewish.

  • 10:23:35

    REHMOh my. I want to ask you about apples, and Cezanne had a fascination with apples. How did that begin and why do you think he concentrated so wonderfully and beautifully on apples?

  • 10:24:02

    DANCHEVCezanne himself said in old age that Cezanne's apples go back a long way. And I think what he meant was that when he and Zola were at school together in Aix, Zola was bullied by the other children. Zola was a little mama's boy, and Cezanne was a big ruffian. And Cezanne stood up for Zola. He protected him. And one day, Zola brought Cezanne a box of apples as a thank you. So apples became for them a kind of bond, a seal of their friendship.

  • 10:24:52

    REHMAnd that friendship...

  • 10:24:52

    DANCHEVAnd I think that from then on...

  • 10:24:55

    REHMThat friendship you talk about lasted from almost cradle to grave.

  • 10:25:06

    DANCHEVYes. There's a huge controversy about how it ended or didn't end or changed later in their lives. When Zola became famous as a novelist, one of the novels that he wrote was a book called "L'oeuvre" in French, "The Masterpiece." And "The Masterpiece" concerns a painter called Claude Lantier, who bears a striking resemblance to a certain painter called Paul Cezanne. And Zola's character, Lantier, is a kind of failed genius who eventually hangs himself in front of his unfinished and unfinishable masterpiece.

  • 10:26:03

    DANCHEVAnd so the theory has always been that this book and this portrayal of such a painter so offended Cezanne, so affected him that the friendship broke in the mid-1880s when the two men were in their 40s. I think that theory is wrong because I think Cezanne understood perfectly well that Zola was writing a novel and was not writing a memoir or trying to send him a message.

  • 10:26:37

    REHMBut what is the evidence either that the friendship ended or that the relationship continued?

  • 10:26:47

    DANCHEVSomething changed. The two men had corresponded intensively for most of their early lives. And we have most of these letters. They're a marvelous source about Cezanne and his life and beliefs. But after that book came out, their correspondence stopped, so something changed. But I think that we need to understand that Cezanne didn't need to be near his friends.

  • 10:27:13


  • 10:27:19

    DANCHEVI mentioned that he was close to Pissarro, the artist. Cezanne and Pissarro didn't meet for 10 or 20 years at a time. And neither of them thought that was odd. Proximity was not necessary to Cezanne's conduct of relationships.

  • 10:27:35

    REHMI know...

  • 10:27:35

    DANCHEVAnd even in a certain way, life, he -- Cezanne felt very close to people who had lived in the classical period.

  • 10:27:46

    REHMHmm. I know the feeling well. I must say, you write that every year Cezanne would submit his canvases to the Salon, and every year for 20 years he was rejected even though his fellow artists, Monet, Gauguin, Renoir loved him and bought his paintings, thought he was a genius. And yet he was largely unknown to the public. How could that be?

  • 10:28:35

    DANCHEVThe Salon at that time was a very conservative affair. It was governed by artists who had already exhibited in the Salon. In other words, it was a kind of club which relegated -- regulated its own membership. And it was very loathed to admit new people, new ways of seeing, new ways of painting, so it is true that all these major artists, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Gauguin, Degas, all collected Cezanne and were fascinated by him, as you said.

  • 10:29:19

    DANCHEVBut the official Salon never recognized him and always felt that this was a kind of barbarian art. But I think the interesting question is what Cezanne himself thought about this. It's true that he might have liked the recognition that came with being in the Salon, but I think it is also true that it became a kind of game with him, an annual sport or campaign. And he expected to be rejected. This was part of the game.

  • 10:29:56

    REHMDoes he leave notes about that? Does he write to his friends to talk about this so-called game?

  • 10:30:09

    DANCHEVYes. He says, I have had a letter, as expected. I continue as normal.

  • 10:30:18

    REHMWhat about his personal life, Alex? He did marry, did he not?

  • 10:30:27

    DANCHEVYes. He met a young girl in Paris of very humble origins in about 1869, so when he was about 30 and she was about 19. Her name was Hortense. And they lived together. They had a child together, but they didn't marry formally, officially, until about 20 years later.

  • 10:30:59


  • 10:31:00

    DANCHEVAnd the reason they didn't marry was that Cezanne's father strongly disapproved of her. And Cezanne, at the time, was living very largely on an allowance from his father since, apart from anything else, he couldn't sell any paintings. He could hardly give them away. And so he was afraid that if he married the girl, if he was open about this relationship, that he would be disinherited by his father. So he had a kind of secret family for much of his middle years.

  • 10:31:37

    REHMHow did his friends feel about her?

  • 10:31:42

    DANCHEVThey knew about her. She was not secret from them. And they tended rather to make fun of her. They called her La Balle, meaning the ball, or perhaps the dumpling. And they called his son the little dumpling. So I think this is a way of deriding her really. I don't think Cezanne used these nicknames, but I think he must have known about them.

  • 10:32:10

    REHMYou know, it seems so interesting that, while Cezanne's father wanted him to be an attorney, a lawyer, his mother really supported his art, encouraged him, and he felt very close to her.

  • 10:32:34

    DANCHEVYes, I think that's right. His mother is a rather shadowy presence. We know very little about her. There are no letters in her hand, as far as I know. She certainly could read. Cezanne wrote to her regularly, but she seems not to have written back. But, yes, they were very close, and I think that his mother must have found ways of negotiating the marriage she was in to her husband who was a very dominating, domineering character.

  • 10:33:12

    DANCHEVHe must have been very difficult to live with, Cezanne's father. But the mother indeed supported Cezanne throughout. Cezanne was very keen to find what he called moral support. And he got that, I think, from his mother, from one or two painters, not very many, from Zola and from books.

  • 10:33:37

    REHMAlex Danchev, his new biography is titled, "Cezanne: A Life," and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a great many callers waiting. We'll open the phones now, 800-433-8850, first to Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, George. You're on the air.

  • 10:34:07

    GEORGEGood morning, Diane. I'm actually on northern Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati.

  • 10:34:11

    REHMI see.

  • 10:34:12

    GEORGEBeautiful day here. I just wanted to mention that the author has already touched on this a little bit, the idea repeatedly, and you mentioned it yourself: subject matter. And as an artist, I've often -- I've read that his story -- quite a bit of writing on Cezanne, and I've always been fascinated by this idea. I wonder if the author has wondered if it was just the fact that Cezanne always felt like he never quite achieved perfection in what he was doing.

  • 10:34:44

    GEORGEThere's a story, and I mentioned this earlier, of -- there's a story about Cezanne on a painting exhibition either with another impressionist or perhaps someone that he knew and that this person was out painting also and walking home came across a Cezanne that was a canvas just basically thrown in the forest. Apparently, he was upset with it, not good enough.

  • 10:35:06

    GEORGEOf course, I probably would have picked up that canvas. But I just wonder if the artist -- or if the author could just broach that subject again, whether he really thinks it is the idea of painting a subject over and over again from different viewpoints or that, from Cezanne's writings, that he was just sometimes very frustrated.

  • 10:35:29

    REHMWhat do you think?

  • 10:35:30

    DANCHEVShall I pick that up?

  • 10:35:31


  • 10:35:32

    DANCHEVYes, that's a very good question. I think that's absolutely right. It seems clear that he did throw away paintings when he was out in the countryside or even in Aix. There's a great story of somebody digging up a Cezanne canvas, a little like an archeological find. So it's a marvelous thing to think that Cezanne was laying down, sedimenting art in his own country. And there's another wonderful story about his canvas that was in a fruit tree for several years at a time before it was harvested, so to speak, by the artist.

  • 10:36:12

    REHMBut is that because he was such a perfectionist or so insecure about his own work that he was simply frustrated, dissatisfied, couldn't quite achieve the vision he had in his heart?

  • 10:36:34

    DANCHEVI think it's mostly frustration, but sometimes perfection, too. I think sometimes he felt that he had arrived at something and that was as far as he could go in any given canvas. And when he'd done that, it was over. He needed to move on to the next one.

  • 10:36:57

    REHMBut why wouldn't he at least give that painting to someone rather than throw it away?

  • 10:37:09

    DANCHEVYes, I'm not sure about the answer to that.

  • 10:37:12

    REHMReally a tough one. If I were out there, I would have been climbing trees and digging as well.

  • 10:37:18


  • 10:37:20

    REHMShort break here and as we come back, we have many phone calls. We'll try to get to as many of you as we can. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Alex Danchev is with me. He's professor of International Relations at the University of Nottingham in England. He joins us from WBEZ in Chicago. His new book is titled "Cezanne: A Life." And here's a tweet from someone who identifies him or herself as alpinejoy, the question being: "Since Cezanne and Zola were friends, did Cezanne have a point of view regarding the Dreyfus affair?"

  • 10:40:53

    DANCHEVThat's a good question. Cezanne was on the wrong side of the Dreyfus affair in the sense that he was an anti-Dreyfusard, whereas, of course, Zola was a Dreyfusard, a pro-Dreyfusard.

  • 10:41:06

    REHMGive us a brief sketch of the Dreyfus affair.

  • 10:41:12

    DANCHEVDreyfus was an officer in the French army who was accused of being a traitor. And it was a trumped up charge very largely because Dreyfus was Jewish. And the affair, as it was called in France, split the country tremendously. Zola published a famous front-page article "J'accuse," I Accuse.

  • 10:41:41

    DANCHEVAnd what he accused was he accused the state, the government, the officials of persecuting Dreyfus, so people split into two camps, one in favor of Dreyfus and Zola and on the side of if you like liberalism and the other who were prepared to believe that Dreyfus was a traitor who were often anti-Semitic or reactionary.

  • 10:42:13

    REHMNow how would that have affected the relationship between Cezanne and Zola to be on opposite sides of that?

  • 10:42:26

    DANCHEVWell, the two camps were not entirely monolithic. There were divisions between them and so, for example, Zola's son-in-law was anti-Semitic and anti-Dreyfusard. So it was possible sometimes for people to tolerate the fact that they were on opposite sides. And Cezanne's position, though anti-Dreyfusard, was not anti-Semitic. I mentioned a little earlier that he always supported Pissarro, a Jew, throughout that period whilst, for example, Renoir and Degas were very anti-Semitic and cut Pissarro in the street. Cezanne referred to himself as a pupil of Pissarro to underline his solidarity.

  • 10:43:21

    REHMHuh. Interesting. All right. To Forestville, Md. Good morning, Maria.

  • 10:43:29

    MARIAGood morning. I want to first thank the author for writing this book. I haven't read it yet, but I look forward to it. I was an art teacher for almost nine years, and the way I introduced my students to painting was actually by having them copy some of Cezanne's still-lifes, usually the apples. And it seemed to take a lot of the stress of painting and being able to mix the colors, so I'm really delighted that this is being discussed.

  • 10:43:56

    MARIAAs an art teacher and a painter I felt that I was fairly familiar with where I could find his work and see it in person, mostly obviously at the National Gallery in New York and some places in Europe. But last year, quite by accident, I went to see the Barnes Foundation to see it before it was moved to its new location.

  • 10:44:16

    MARIAAnd I was surprised to find a treasure trove of Cezanne's that I did not know existed so close. I wondered if the author came across any of the research or any of the information about Dr. Barnes, Albert Barnes and how his collecting of Cezanne's work in the United States affected the art scene here.

  • 10:44:35

    REHMThank you, Maria.

  • 10:44:37

    DANCHEVYes, another very good question. There are more Cezannes in Philadelphia than there are in France. There are a huge number of Cezannes in the Barnes' collection as your caller says and also some tremendous Cezannes in the Philadelphia Museum of Art just up the street. Barnes was remarkable. He had almost unlimited resources, as you all know, and he had tremendous taste. He was a most difficult and peculiar man, but, goodness me, he knew how to buy good art. And he bought dozens of Cezannes at a time when very, very few people were collecting Cezanne in strength.

  • 10:45:25

    REHMHow interesting. All right, Maria. There you are. To Richard in Cape Cod, Mass. Hello, you're on the air.

  • 10:45:36

    RICHARDOh, thank you, Diane. I'm fascinated with this conversation, and it happens that I am working on a documentary of the 1913 armory show, which your guest will know. And I'm actually looking at a Photostat of the entry card -- several entry cards of the paintings which were brought over for that show in New York. And at some point, of course, when you're discussing somebody like Cezanne, you always get to price.

  • 10:46:08

    RICHARDAnd I thought you would be interested to know that the insured price for one of his most famous paintings in 1913, which was Old Woman with Rosary, just now at the National Gallery in London, was $48,600. And today, of course, it probably could not be purchased. So I just thought that it's an interesting comment on the inflating -- constantly inflating value of these magnificent artists.

  • 10:46:41

    REHMIndeed. Richard, thank you for your call. Do you agree that at this point that piece would probably be priceless?

  • 10:46:53

    DANCHEVYes. That armory show of 1913 was, I think, the first public exhibition of Cezanne's here in the U.S. and tremendously important. Very interesting to hear about the price. A hundred years later, one of Cezanne's card-players paintings has been bought by the emir of Kuwait for $250 million.

  • 10:47:19

    REHMOh my. Oh my. Here's an email from Carolyn who says, "Didn't Cezanne, as many other poor artists of his day, paint himself because he could not afford to pay a model?"

  • 10:47:39

    DANCHEVOh, that's a very good suggestion. I think in this instance Cezanne was not well off, but he did have a little more money than some. But what he didn't like was working with a live model in the studio, somebody -- a stranger, if you like. He found that upsetting, off-putting, so he very, very rarely used models in the conventional way, especially women.

  • 10:48:11

    REHMWhat you're saying is he was somewhat uncomfortable with having a live model, that that was detrimental in some way to his painting?

  • 10:48:27

    DANCHEVYes, a stranger, especially a naked stranger.

  • 10:48:31

    REHMI see.

  • 10:48:32

    DANCHEVAnd especially a naked woman.

  • 10:48:33

    REHMAll right. Well, here's a question to follow up on that. "What was Cezanne's fascination with the woman standing, bending, perhaps playing in the sea waves? He created several such paintings, and they now seem somehow archetypal, but of what?" And before you respond, let me just tell our listeners that they can see something like this with the Large Bathers painting as part of our Cezanne gallery at Go right ahead, Alex.

  • 10:49:19

    DANCHEVYes. In the last 10 years of his life, he painted three versions of these large bathers, as they're called. One is the Barnes' collection, one is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art -- excuse me -- and one is in the National Gallery in London. They're vast paintings, and he'd been planning these paintings for years. He built a studio in 1901 a few years before he died. And in the studio wall he had a kind of giant vertical letter box so that huge canvases could be passed in and out through the wall.

  • 10:49:59

    DANCHEVIn other words, he was planning these paintings for a very long time. And he planned, I think, to make paintings that would go in the world's great museums. And these were paintings not of any particular persons or models but paintings out of his imagination. They were dreamscapes. And they were fared, I think, by the stories that he read in the classical world by the people in Virgil and not the people in France.

  • 10:50:32

    REHMInteresting. Here's an email from Susan who's listening to the program while, as she puts it, working on her humble paintings. She says, "I have to confess I'm confounded that Cezanne's desire to obliterate his unsuccessful work is a mystery to you and your guest, as it seems so obvious to me. When someone strives in their work to make a good -- really good painting to satisfy their own idea of good, it's like putting yourself on the canvas, and it doesn't measure up -- if it doesn't measure up, it has to be removed from anyone's gaze. It cannot live."

  • 10:51:33

    DANCHEVWhat a marvelous suggestion. I think that for many of the painters and philosophers and writers who came after him, it's that very idea that appeals to them so much about Cezanne, the idea that what you see in a Cezanne picture is, in fact, Cezanne the man, that, as Brock said, he risked his life every time he painted a picture.

  • 10:52:03

    REHMOh my. What was his life like after his father died?

  • 10:52:12

    DANCHEVHis father in 1886, and so Cezanne then had about 20 more years to live. For a while he lived, I think, much as he had before. But during the last 10 years of his life, he cut himself off from other people with an almost ruthless abandon. He lived a lot of the time in a huge quarry near Aix where he got very close to the land, very close to the earth.

  • 10:52:48

    DANCHEVCezanne was in every sense well earthed. He understood the land. He became friends with trees. He communed with the mountain. He saw some people but not very many. And other painters would come and try to find him as if on a pilgrimage. They'd try and listen to him and learn.

  • 10:53:10

    REHMHe developed arthritis. Did -- sorry, diabetes.

  • 10:53:17


  • 10:53:18

    REHMHow did that affect him?

  • 10:53:21

    DANCHEVWell, it's a little difficult to know. We don't have any medical records. He made no secret of it, and he sometimes complained of certain things. He complained about headaches, intense headaches which just occasionally stopped him painting, but not often. One of the interesting things to speculate about is how it affected his vision.

  • 10:53:47

    DANCHEVAnd we don't really know, but we do know that it could've altered the vision. If you have diabetes, you sometimes have colored blindness of various kinds or partial blindness. And so the speculation has always been whether he saw things differently, perhaps more -- less clearly, more fuzzily. But I don't really think that we can use the diabetes to explain the painting.

  • 10:54:14

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How did he die?

  • 10:54:25

    DANCHEVCezanne vowed that he would die painting. And he did. He was caught in a thunderstorm outside one day near Aix, and he must've become unconscious. And he was out there in the rain and the wind for several hours until he happened to be found by a passing laundryman on his cart. And so he was brought back in and taken to his room. And it was clear that he was in mortal danger. He carried on painting for a day or two. We have his last watercolor, which is absolutely magnificent painting...

  • 10:55:09

    REHMMy goodness.

  • 10:55:10

    DANCHEV...which he -- was stationed next to his bed. And he would get up every so often as he could and put another dab or two of color on the painting. And he was also working on one of the last paintings of his gardener, Vallier, who became a kind of second self, I think, very close to him.

  • 10:55:29


  • 10:55:30

    DANCHEVSo he was painting till the end. And one morning he simply expired. And so in a certain way he achieved what he had wanted, which was...

  • 10:55:44

    REHMExactly what he wanted.

  • 10:55:45 paint until the end.

  • 10:55:46

    REHMYes, exactly. You regard him as perhaps the greatest painter the world has ever known.

  • 10:55:58

    DANCHEVYes. I think he was unquestionably the greatest modern artist acknowledged as such by practically every other artist in the 20th century, unquestionably the most influential modern artist, and unquestionably also the artist who's most influential beyond art, as a kind of exemplary figure for so many writers, philosophers, thinkers, dreamers. It is really Cezanne who is the exemplary artist creator of the modern age.

  • 10:56:35

    REHM"Cezanne: A Life," that's the title of Alex Danchev's new biography containing some glorious reproductions of Cezanne's work. You will find several in our own gallery at Alex Danchev, thank you so much. It was a real pleasure to talk with you.

  • 10:57:04

    DANCHEVA privilege. Thank you.

  • 10:57:06

    REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 10:57:10

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Jill Colgan. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.

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