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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

A huge amount of research has been completed on the life and career of Paul Cezanne, such was his significance in the transition from traditional art to modern art. From this comes a whole plethora of directly attributable Paul Cezanne quotes which we include below.

Paul Cezanne was an opinionated artist who also studied art history in great detail. He looked to learn as much as he could from other artists, both new and old. During his own period there was a strong presence of exceptional artists across France from whom he could take new ideas, both creatively and also technically. Much of what we have discovered of his views on other artists was found in written correspondence between himself and other members of the artistic community.

Famous Quotes by Paul Cezanne

He [the painter Manet] hits of the tone... ...but his work lacks unity and temperament too.

If I dared, I should say that your [Camille Pissarro] letter is imprinted with sadness. The picture business isn't going well; I fear that your morale may be colored a little grey, but I'm sure that it's only a passing phase.. .I imagine that you would be delighted with the country where I am now.. L'Estaque, by the sea. I haven't been in Aix for a month. I've started two little motifs of the sea, for Monsieur Chocquet [one of them became his later painting 'The Sea at L'Estaque', who had talked to me about it. It's like a playing card. Red roofs against the blue sea. If the weather turns favorable perhaps I'll be able to finish them off.

I saw Monet and Renoir at about the end of December; they had been on holiday in Genoa, in Italy.

The Night-watch (large and famous painting of Dutch 17th century painter Rembrandt... ...the grandiose - I don't say it in bad part - grows tiresome after a while. There are mountains like that; when you stand before them you shout Nom de Dieu, but for every day a simple little hill does well enough. Listen Monsieur Vollard, if the 'Raft of the Medusa' of Théodore Géricault hung in my bedroom, it would make me sick.

Here you are, put this somewhere, on your work table. You must always have this before your eyes.. .It's a new order of painting. Our Renaissance starts here.. .There's a pictorial truth in things. This rose and this white lead us to it by a path hitherto unknown to our sensibility..

Cezanne is referring in this quote to a photo of the painting 'Olypmpia', painted by Manet

Everything we look at disperses and vanishes. doesn't it? Nature is always the same, and yet its appearance is always changing.. .Painting must give us the flavour of nature’s eternity. Everything, you understand. So I join together nature's straying hands.. ..From all sides, here there and everywhere, I select colours, tones and shades; I set them down, I bring them together.. ..They make lines, they become objects – rocks, trees – without my thinking about them.. ..But if there is the slightest distraction, the slightest hitch, above all if I interpret too much one day, if I'm carried away today by a theory which contradicts yesterday's, if I think while I'm painting, if I meddle, then woosh!, everything goes to pieces.

Colour is the place where our brain and the universe meet. That's why colour appears so entirely dramatic, to true painters. Look at Sainte-Victoire there [the hill, which Cézanne painted again and again] How it soars, how imperiously it thirsts for the sun!. .For a long time I was quite unable to paint Sainte-Victoire; I had no idea to go about it because, like others who just look at it, I imagined the shadow to be concave, whereas in fact it's convex, it disperses outward from the center. Instead of accumulating, it evaporates, becomes fluid, bluish, participating in the movements of the surrounding air. Just as over there to the right, on the Pilon du Roi, you can see the contrary effect, the brightness gently rocking to and fro, moist and shimmering. That's the sea.. ..That's one needs to depict. What one needs to know. That's the bath of experience, so to speak...

In that Renaissance (Cellini, Tintoretto, Titian..) there was an explosion of unique truthfulness, a love of painting and form.. .Then come the Jesuits and everything is formal; everything has to be taught and learned. It required a revolution for nature to be rediscovered; for Delacroix to paint his beach at Etratat, Corot his roman rubble, Gustave Courbet his forest scenes and his waves. And how miserable slow that revolution was, how many stages it had to go through!.. .These artists had not yet discovered that nature has more to do with depth than with surfaces. I can tell you, you can do things to the surface.. ..but by going deep you automatically go to the truth. You feel a healthy need to be truthful. You'd rather strip your canvas right down than invent or imagine a detail. You want to know.

Monet's cliffs (at Etretat) will survive as a prodigious series, as will a hundred others of his canvases.. .He'll be in the Louvre, for sure, alongside Constable and Turner. Damn it, he's even greater. He painted the iridescence of the earth. He's painted water. Remember those Rouen cathedrals.. .But where everything slips away in these pictures of Monet's, nowadays we must insert a solidity, a framework..

Degas isn't enough of a painter; he doesn't have enough of that! With a little bit of temperament one can manage to be a painter, It's enough to have a sense of art, and that sense is no doubt what the bourgeoisie fear most.. .For a painter, sensation is at the bottom of everything. I will go on repeating it forever. Procedures are not what I advocate.

Let's not eliminate nature. Too bad if we fail. You see, in his 'Dejeuner sur l'herbe', Manet ought to have added - I don't know what - a touch of this nobility, whatever it is in this picture that conveys heaven to our every sense. Look at the golden flow of the tall woman, the other one's back.. .They are alive and they are divine.

Yes, yes, a formula that's a straitjacket.. ..not for me! All the same, he tries in vain, does Jean-Dominique [Ingres], to wring your heart with his glossy finish! I said this to Vollard, to shock him, he is very powerful! Nevertheless he [ Jean-Dominique Ingres, French classicist painter] is a damned good man.. .The most modern of the moderns. Do you know why I take my hat off to him? Because he forced his fantastic draughtsmanship down the throats of the idiots who now claim to understand it. But here there are only two: Delacroix and Courbet. The rest are scoundrels.

He (Delacroix) turns David [French painter] upside down. His painting is iridescent. Seeing one Constable [famous English landscape painter, admired by French painters, then] is enough to make him understand all the possibilities of landscape, and he too sets up his easel by the sea.. .And he has a sense of human being, of life in movement, of warmth. Everything moves, every glistens. The light!.. .There is more warm light in this interior [probably: Delacroix's 'Woman of Algiers'] of his than in all of Corot's landscapes..

A builder. A rough and ready plasterer. A colour grinder. He Courbet is like a Roman bricklayer. And yet he's another true painter. There's no one in this century that surpasses him. Even though he rolls up his sleeves, plugs up his ears, demolishes columns, his workmanship is classical!.. .His view was always compositional. His vision remained traditional. Like his palette-knife, he used it only out of doors. He was sophisticated and brought his work to a high finish.. .His great contribution is the poetic introduction of nature - the smell of damp leaves, mossy forest cuttings - into nineteenth century painting; the murmur of rain, woodlands shadows, sunlight moving under trees. The sea. And snow, he painted snow like no one else!

Objects enter into each other.. .Chardin [French classical still-life painter] was the first to have glimpsed that and rendered the atmosphere of objects.. .Notice how a light transversal plane straddling the bridge of your nose makes the values more evident to the eye.. .Well, he noticed that before we did.. .He neglected nothing. He also perceived that whole encounter in the atmosphere of the tiniest particles, the fine dust of emotion that surrounds objects..

Art is a harmony parallel with nature.

A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.

Don't be an art critic. Paint. There lies salvation.

For an Impressionist to paint from nature is not to paint the subject, but to realize sensations.

Genius is the ability to renew one's emotions in daily experience.

Here, on the river's verge, I could be busy for months without changing my place, simply leaning a little more to right or left.

If isolation tempers the strong, it is the stumbling-block of the uncertain.

I must be more sensible and realize that at my age, illusions are hardly permitted and they will always destroy me.

It's so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.

Keep good company - that is, go to the Louvre.

Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one's sensations.

Painting is damned difficult - you always think you've got it, but you haven't.

Shadow is a colour as light is, but less brilliant; light and shadow are only the relation of two tones.

The awareness of our own strength makes us modest.

The most seductive thing about art is the personality of the artist himself.

There are two things in the painter, the eye and the mind; each of them should aid the other.

The world doesn't understand me and I don't understand the world, that's why I've withdrawn from it.

When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art.

Pure drawing is an abstraction. Drawing and colour are not distinct, everything in nature is coloured.

The approbation of others is a stimulus of which one must sometimes be wary. The feeling of one's own strength makes one modest.

I am old and ill, and I have sworn to die painting.

With an apple I will astonish Paris.

An art which isn't based on feeling isn't an art at all... feeling is the principle, the beginning and the end; craft, objective, technique - all these are in the middle.

One had to immerse oneself in one's surroundings and intensely study nature or one's subject to understand how to recreate it.

The Louvre is the book in which we learn to read.

I thought that by leaving Aix I should leave behind the boredom that pursues me. Actually I have done nothing but change my abode and the boredom has followed me.

We live in a rainbow of chaos.

- on Eugene Delacroix... His is the greatest palette of France and no one beneath our skies possessed to a greater extent than he both the serene and the pathetic, the vibration of color. We all paint through him.

There is no model; there is only color.

Nature is more depth than surface. Hence the need to introduce into our light vibrations represented by the reds and yellows, a sufficient amount of blue to give the impression of air.

When the color achieves richness, the form attains its fullness also.

There is a logic of colors, and it is with this alone, and not with the logic of the brain, that the painter should conform.

I am progressing very slowly, for nature reveals herself to me in very complex forms; and the progress needed is incessant.

Time and reflection... modify, little by little, our vision, and at last comprehension comes to us.

Michelangelo is a constructor, and Rafael an artist who, great as he is, is always limited by the model. When he tries to be thoughtful he falls below the niveau of his great rival.

The artist must scorn all judgment that is not based on an intelligent observation of character. He must beware of the literary spirit which so often causes a painting to deviate from its true path – the concrete study of nature – to lose itself all too long in intangible speculations.

I have made some progress. Why so late and with such difficulty? Is art really a priesthood that demands the pure in heart who must belong to it entirely?

The contour eludes me.

I cannot attain the intensity that is unfolded before my senses. I have not the magnificent richness of colouring that animates nature.

I could paint for a hundred years, a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing.

Drawing and colour are not separate at all; in so far as you paint, you draw. The more the colour harmonizes, the more exact the drawing becomes.

Nature is the best instructor.

All my compatriots are asses compared to me.

I'd like to combine melancholy and sunshine... There's a sadness in Provence which no one has expressed... I'd like to put reason in the grass and tears in the sky, like Poussin...

The strong experience of nature... is the necessary basis for all conception of art on which rests the grandeur and beauty of all future work.

The knowledge of the means of expressing our emotions is only acquired through very long experience.

Get to the heart of what is before you and continue to express yourself as logically as possible.

One is neither too scrupulous nor too sincere nor too submissive to nature; but one is more or less master of one's model, and, above all, of the means of expression.

I have to keep working, not to arrive at finish, which arouses the admiration of fools... I must seek completion only for the pleasure of being truer and more knowing.

When a picture isn't realized, you pitch it in the fire and start another one!

The sun penetrates me soundlessly like a distant friend that stirs up my laziness, fertilizes it. We bring forth life.

To paint is not to copy the object slavishly, it is to grasp a harmony among many relationships.

When they [paintings] are done right, harmony appears by itself. The more numerous and varied they are, the more the effect is obtained and agreeable to the eye.

Everything we see falls apart, vanishes. Nature is always the same, but nothing in her that appears to us, lasts. Our art must render the thrill of her permanence along with her elements, the appearance of all her changes. It must give us the taste of her eternity.

Under this fine rain I breathe in the innocence of the world. I feel coloured by the nuances of infinity. At this moment I am one with my picture. We are an iridescent chaos...

I wish to die painting.

Light is a thing that cannot be reproduced, but must be represented by something else – by color.

An optical impression is produced on our organs of sight which makes us classify as light, half-tone or quartertone, the surfaces represented by colour sensations. So that light does not exist for the painter.

We may all descend from Pissarro.

I advance all of my canvas at one time.

Treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything in proper perspective so that each side of an object or a plane is directed towards a central point.

Studying the model and realizing it is sometimes very slow in coming for the artist.

What I am trying to translate to you is more mysterious; it is entwined in the very roots of being, in the implacable source of sensations.

I have not tried to reproduce nature: I have represented it.

In order to make progress, there is only nature, and the eye is turned through contact with her.

The Louvre is a good book to consult, but it must only be an intermediary. The real and immense study that must be taken up is the manifold picture of nature.

What is one to think of those fools who tell one that the artist is always subordinate to nature? Art is a harmony parallel with nature.

To be sure an artist wishes to raise his standard intellectually as much as possible, but the man must remain in obscurity. Pleasure must be found in the studying.

The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.

The transposition that a painter makes with an original vision gives to the representation of nature a new interest.

Whoever the master is whom you prefer, this must only be a directive for you. Otherwise you will never be anything but an imitator.

He unfolds, as a painter, that which has not yet been said; he translates it into absolute terms of painting – something other than reality.

Literature expresses itself by abstractions, whereas painting, by means of drawing and colour, gives concrete shape to sensations and perceptions.

leasure must be found in study.

All pictures painted inside in the studio will never be as good as the things done outside.

There is no such thing as an amateur artist as different from a professional artist. There is only good art and bad art.

I never know where I am going or where I want to go with this damned profession.

To achieve progress nature alone counts, and the eye is trained through contact with her. It becomes concentric by looking and working.

I wished to copy nature. I could not. But I was satisfied when I discovered the sun, for instance, could not be reproduced, but only represented by something else.

I am still searching for the expression of those confused sensations that we bring with us at birth.

One must see one's model correctly and experience it in the right way; and furthermore express oneself forcibly and with distinction.

Monet is only an eye, but my God, what an eye!

One can do good things without being very much of a harmonist or a colourist. It is sufficient to have a sense of art – and this sense is doubtless the horror of the bourgeois.

Fruits... like having their portrait painted. They seem to sit there and ask your forgiveness for fading. Their thought is given off with their perfumes. They come with all their scents, they speak of the fields they have left, the rain which has nourished them, the daybreaks they have seen.

My nervous system is very much weakened – nothing but painting in oil can keep me going.

Taste is the best judge. It is rare. Art only addresses itself to an excessively small number of individuals.

All the theories mess you up inside.

Right now a moment of time is fleeting by! Capture its reality in paint... We must become that moment, make ourselves a sensitive recording plate... give the image of what we actually see, forgetting everything that has been seen before our time.

There is no light painting or dark painting, but simply relations of tones.

Surely, a single bunch of carrots painted naively, just as we personally see it, is worth all the endless banalities of the Schools, all those dreary pictures concocted out of tobacco juice according to time-honored formulas?

I owe you the truth in painting, and I will tell it to you.

Talks on art are almost useless. The work which goes to bring progress in one's own subject is sufficient compensation for the incomprehension of imbeciles.

The painter unfolds that which has not been seen.

Quotes about Paul Cezanne by Art Historians and Fellow Artists

How does he Cézanne do it? He cannot put two touches of colour on a canvas without its being very good.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

I hope that Cezanne will still be here and that he will join us, but he is so shy, so afraid of meeting new people, that I am afraid that he might let us down, even though he wants very much to meet you. How sad it is that this man hasn't had more patronage in his life! This is a true artist who has come to doubt himself far too much. He needs to be cheered up, so he was quite touched by your article.

Claude Monet

This Cézanne [Still life with Compotier, Fruit and Glass, c. 1879-1882], that you ask me for is a pearl of exceptional quality and I already have refused three hundred francs for it; it is one of my most treasured possessions, and except in absolute necessity, I would give up my last shirt before the picture.

Paul Gauguin

The Impressionists were the first [painters] to reject the absolute value of the subject and to consider its value to be merely relative.. .In Paul Cezanne's letters I notice ideas like these: 'Objects must turn, recede, and live. I wish to make something lasting from impressionism, like the art in the museums'.. .'For an impressionist, to paint after nature is not to paint the object, but to express sensations'.. .'After having looked at the old masters, one must take haste to leave them and to verify in one’s self the instincts, the sensations that dwell in us.'

Fernand Leger

Very few people ever had the opportunity to see Cézanne at work, because he could not endure being watched while at the easel. For one who has seen him paint, it is difficult to imagine how slow and painful his progress was on certain days. In my portrait there are two little spots of canvas on the hand which are not covered. I called Cézanne's attention to them. "If the copy I'm making in the Louvre turns out well," he replied, "perhaps I will be able tomorrow to find the exact tone to cover up those spots. Don't you see, Monsieur Vollard, that if I put something there by guesswork, I might have to paint the whole canvas over starting from that point?" The prospect made me tremble. During the period that Cézanne was working on my portrait, he was also occupied with a large composition of nudes, begun about 1895, on which he labored almost to the end of his life.

Ambroise Vollard

Cézanne made a cylinder out of a bottle. I start from the cylinder to create a special kind of individual object. I make a bottle — a particular bottle — out of a cylinder.

Juan Gris

It is not what the artist does that counts. But what he is. Cézanne would never have interested me if he had lived and thought like Jaques-Emile Blanche, even if the apple he had painted had been ten times more beautiful. What interests us is the anxiety of Cézanne, the teaching of Cézanne, the anguish of Van Gogh, in short the inner drama of the man. The rest is false.

Pablo Picasso

I was with Cézanne for a long time, and now naturally I am with Picasso.

Arshile Gorky

The whole Renaissance tradition is antipathic to me. The hard-and-fast rules of perspective which it succeeded in imposing on art were a ghastly mistake which it has taken four centuries to redress; Paul Cézanne and after him Picasso and myself can take a lot of credit for this.. ..scientific perspective forces the objects in a picture to disappear away form the beholder instead of bringing them within his reach as painting should.

Georges Braque

But I find, because of modern painting, that things which couldn't be seen in terms of painting, things you couldn't paint.. is not that you paint them, bit is the connection. I imagine that Cézanne, when he painted a ginger pot with apples, must have been very grotesque in his day, because a still life was something set up of beautiful things. It may be very difficult, for instance, to put a Rheingold bottled beer on the table and a couple of glasses and a package of Lucky Strike [cigarets]. I mean, you know, there are certain things you cannot paint at a particular time, and it takes a certain attitude how to see those things, in terms of art.

Willem de Kooning

Artists have never worked with the model – just with the painting. What you [G. R. Swenson, the interviewer] are really saying is that an artist like Cézanne transforms what we think the painting ought to look like into something he thinks it ought to look like. He’s working with paint, not nature; he’s making a painting, he’s forming. I think my work is different from comic strips – but I wouldn't call it transformation; I don’t think that whatever is meant by it is important to art. What I do is form, whereas the comic strip is not formed in the sense I'm using the word; the comics have shapes but there has been no effort to make them intensely unified. The purpose is different, one intends to depict and I intend to unify.

Roy Lichtenstein

When I want to speak about why I am doing the same thing now, which is squares, for – how long? – 19 years. Because there is no final solution in any visual formulation. Although this may be just a belief on my part, I have some assurances that that is not the most stupid thing to do, through Cezanne whom I consider as one of the greatest painters. From Cézanne we have, so the historians tell us – 250 paintings of 'Mont St. Victoire'. But we know that Cézanne has left in the fields often more than he took home because he was disappointed with his work. So we may conclude he did many more than 250 of the same problem.

Josef Albers