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Immature middle-aged man

Posted August. 10, 2023 08:22,   

Updated August. 10, 2023 08:22


Paul Cezanne, known for his still-life oil paintings of apples, began to create paintings of people swimming or bathing in the mid-1870s. “The Bathers” (1885, photo) was one of those paintings. A boy clothed in underwear in the middle of the day in summer puts his feet in a puddle, but he looks rather glum. Why did the painter portray the boy this way?

This painting is not appealing at all from a 19th-century traditional art perspective. It goes against the custom of depicting a young man in the traditional way with a muscular body of ideal ratio. The boy has his hands on hips, casts his eyes down, and is lost in thought. His mouth and jaw are twisted, and his body lacks vitality and muscles. He does not appear hero-like at all. His expression‎ makes him appear downcast and unstable. The blue background is vague and abstract. With detailed descriptions omitted, it makes it difficult to see whether it is a river, ocean, reality, or imagination. This reflects Cezanne’s view of art seeking to move away from traditional style and aspiring for something new, and his vague position bordering on the lines.

The year 1885 was a year of crisis and challenge for the artist. At that time, he was in love with a young maid despite his marriage to Marie-Hortense, who bore his son. He was downcast when his sister fired the maid. At 46, he had yet to be successful as an artist, economically dependent, still relying on this authoritarian father. Still, Cezanne used photography, which was state-of-the-art technology then, to create artwork ahead of his time. Unlike other impressionist artists, he did not paint outdoors but took photos of models in a pose in his atelier, which he used to draw paintings.

The model in the photo is a man with a mustache in his 30s, but Cezanne portrayed the figure as a boy adolescent, projecting himself who failed in love and was economically dependent. This is why the painting is considered a self-portrait of the middle-aged Cezanne.