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Posts tagged ‘Cézanne’

Beyond the apples: Cézanne Portraits

I have never found an artist better able to reflect the earthy, softly glowing light of a landscape as well as Paul Cézanne captured his native Provence. Whether it be his landscapes of L’Estaque or his obsessive interpretations of the Mont St Victoire, Cézanne’s landscapes breathe and quiver with the the warmth and vivacity of Aix. With their strident, vibrating brushstrokes, Cézanne perfectly replicates the quavering undulations of heated air rising from the dusty ground. And in his palette of earthy tones, Cézanne immortalises the ochre glow which characterises the villages and Mediterranean habitat of his homeland. Even Cézanne’s famous still lives of oranges and apples are characterised by the same Provencal light, and his paintings of peasants playing cards are tinged with a sense of poverty but not without the hope which the light of the Mediterranean climate always provides.

However the one aspect of Cézanne’s oeuvre which often goes overlooked is his portraiture. It’s not a genre which is synonymous with the artist – the man charged with being the father of modern art – who is better known for his first dabbles into cubist forms and semi-abstract expressionism. Yet as the new exhibition just opened at London’s National Portrait Gallery shows to stunning effect, he was truly a master of the portrait.

Madame Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet, 1850–1922) in a Red Dress

Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress, 1888-90


Gustave Geffroy, 1895-6

Self Portrait Rose Ground 1875

Self Portrait Rose Ground, 1875

Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair 1877

Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair, 1877

His virtuosity of the medium is manifold. First it is the intensity of character which he captures in often coarsely applied brush strokes and thickly layered paint – the brilliant portraits of his Uncle Dominique painted with only a palette knife being one such example. Through a mastery of light and shadow, and a multi-tonal handling of colour to represent the contours of skin and the movement of fabric, Cézanne’s sitters have a depth not just of tone but personality too, as his portraits emerge from the canvas as wholly realised individuals. Secondly, Cézanne’s skill resides in that same innate understanding of composition which make all of his works – even the most simple still life – such works of brilliance. For in constructing his portraits, Cézanne’s sitter is but one part of a perfectly balanced whole. Every daub of colour, every angle of sitter and background is fantastically conceived to create a harmonious balance. The result is a portrait which is deeply satisfying to behold, and which touches its audience for reasons which many will be quite unaware.

Self Portrait in a white bonnet 1881-2

Self Portrait in a white bonnet, 1881-2

Boy in a Red Waistcoat 1888-9

Boy in a Red Waistcoat, 1888-9

Uncle Dominique in Smock and Blue Cap 1866-7

Uncle Dominique in Smock and Blue Cap,1866-7

Seated Woman in Blue 1904

Seated Woman in Blue, 1904

While my regular strolls into the wonderful Courtauld Gallery (happily located so close to my work) have introduced me to the world of Cézanne portraiture before, I had no idea of the scale and prolific mastery with which Cézanne meddled in the medium. With works spanning his entire career including some 26 portraits which demonstrate the same level of self-examinatory intensity as was previously mastered only by the likes of Rembrandt, the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition offers fans of Cézanne a truly unique opportunity to understand a crucial aspect of the artist’s genius. His mastery over fruit and landscapes is undisputed and well documented. But now, happily, this impossibly important third genre sees the light of day, and marks a further reason for attributing Cézanne as the true father of all modern art.

Cézanne Portraits is on at the National Portrait Gallery, London until 11 February 2018

Marseille to Marbella, Part VI: Aix, Le Birthday Boy

I adore Aix-en-Provence. Apart from the inimitable Paris, it is undoubtedly my favourite city in France. Elegant, leafy, filled with bustling squares and trickling fountains, it is a city which is inescapably gentrified, and which exudes a real sense of cultural enrichment and a proud artistic heritage which resonates at every corner. Ever since we first went back in 2013, a visit which led to my painting, Aix: City of a Thousand Fountains, Aix has held a prominent place in my heart. If you want true Provence, the kind of Provence which you’ve seen on postcards or dreamt about in visions framed by lavender-scented cobbled streets and rosé wine supped amongst stripey-shirted waiters and vichy table-clothes, this is really it. Aix is a veritable feast of pretty squares and idyllic leafy shopping streets. Dare I say that it is close to perfect?


So when we decided to head down to Marseille around the time of my birthday, Aix had to feature, and given that it is truly my favourite place in the region, it felt like the perfectly appointed seat of celebration for my impending anniversaire.  Soon enough we were bedded into a lovely little attic room in the Hotel des Quatre Dauphins (very La Bohème) named after the four dolphin fountain of the same name which trickles away in this very ochre-coloured stately area of Aix. Within seconds we were on the main leafy thoroughfares of Aix, where Cezanne, Aix’s most famous son, used to sip on wine and consider how best to capture the nearby Mount St Victoire. And all around we were surrounded by cafes and galleries and boutiques aplenty. During 24 hours in Aix we must have seen over 200 paintings in exhibitions which ranged from the Jaeger collection to a retrospective of Sisley landscapes. We had breakfast opposite the multi-coloured food market (more about that later in the week), lunch in the imperial surroundings of the Hotel de Caumont and dinner in a tiny patio hung with decorative laundry and bourganvilla. Could there be a better way to spend a birthday?


So once again Aix proved to be the perfect Provençal destination, and a flawless birthday gift. It’s one of those towns which seems to glow with a golden sheen, like Rome whose streets bask in the reflected light which bounces of its terracotta walls. Here the effect is created by walls painted in butterscotch and caramel, and reflected across the streets with the aid of sunlight magnified in trickling fountains. It really is an aesthete’s paradise. That’s why Aix can make a Cezanne of us all.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Marseille to Marbella, Part IV: L’Estaque

Any art historian or Impressionist aficionado will recognise the name L’Estaque even if they cannot bring a vision of the place immediately to mind. Today, this small fishing village could be easily missed. It is now but one suburb merged involuntarily into the insuperable urban sprawl of Marseille. Yet 100 years ago it was at the centre of an artistic movement. Not only did the port and the surrounding landscapes inspire some of the most preeminent forefathers of Impressionism, but it is also credited as being instrumental to the birth of the Cubist movement.


How and why cubism came about here is unclear, but Cezanne, a forerunner of the movement, was evidently as inspired by the geometric volumes of the railway bridges and houses clinging to the hills as he was by the hard-edged stone quarries near his birth city of Aix. But it was perhaps the contributions of Georges Braque which were to be the most significant. While his initial response to the landscape was a fauvist expression in a multi-coloured palette of startling bright tones, it was his decidedly cubist landscapes depicting L’Estaque’s house-filled hillsides which really put the town, and cubism, on the artistic map.

L’Estaque by Braque and Cezanne

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Given its place in art history, I felt that this little former village had to be on our Marseille itinerary, even though for many, it may go unnoticed. Happily we were able to take a boat the 30 minutes along the bay – a far preferable trip to the alternative of a sweaty commuter train out of the Gare St Charles – and this approach gave us  the advantage of seeing the hillsides of L’Estaque from afar, characterised as they are by the arched railway bridges which feature so predominantly in Cezanne and Braque’s landscapes.

I would be lying if I said that we were blown away by the town. It is, in essence, a very simple seaside village with a hand-full of bars and a port packed with fishing boats. It is also somewhat difficult to imagine the quaint village which Braque and Cezanne might have discovered when they arrived years ago, free from the modern industrial structures which sit just outside the town, and the tall wire fencing which closes off much of the port from view. However, once we strolled up into the higher streets, and looked across both the port and the rooftops of the gradually ascending town, suddenly the shapes and volumes which must have inspired that new cubist way of depiction fell into place, and the true artistic significance of L’Estaque gained clarity.


Satisfied, therefore, by our trip and the insight it provided into the birth of cubism, we grew fonder of L’Estaque, a notion which a few glasses of rosé on the sunny portside promoted. And then, as though reminding us that a contemporary society also lives today in this town of cubist history, a bugle call and a loudspeaker announced the commencement of Le Joute – a form of water based jousting which captured our attention for the remainder of the afternoon. Only then did we head back onto the water, gliding away from L’Estaque in a boat bound for Marseille, watching behind us as the forms of houses and rail bridges grew smaller until they resembled mere cubes on a craggy hillside…


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Aix: City of a Thousand Fountains

After a week of “sneak peeks” via my delacybrownart twitter feed, I am delighted to be able to share with you the final and complete image of my major new oil painting on canvas – Aix: City of a Thousand Fountains. Started shortly after I returned from my first visit to the stunning Provençal city last summer, I set out to capture something of the sun drenched joie de vivre which  Aix excuses by the bucket in a work which eventually took me 7 months to complete.

As the painting’s title suggests, the work plays on a well known descriptive adage which notes that the city is one of “a thousand fountains”. While that may be something of an exaggeration, the motivation behind the statement can be well understood – one of the most notable features of the city is indeed its plentiful and elaborate fountains, one situated in what seems to be every square and street, in the middle of junctions and on street corners. It really is a city where water flourishes; where splashing running currents sparkle playfully in the sun.

But in choosing to symbolise several of these many fountains, I decided to play with the themes somewhat, combining those fountains with the very predominant cafe culture which is an integral aspect of the city’s character, and which fills it’s many multi-coloured shuttered squares with life. It is in one such square that my work is set, a square which also plays host to a series of Provençal shops and peeling old vintage adverts upon the walls. And there, on the typically dressed chequered tablecloths of cafe tables, my fountains, rather than plates, are the dish of the day.

Aix: City of a Thousand Fountains (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas)

Aix: City of a Thousand Fountains (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas)

Meanwhile no painting of Aix-en-Provence could be complete without a reference to the magnificent Mont Sainte-Victoire, the mountain which so seduced and fascinated the artist Cézanne for years (resulting in a series of canvases which continue to be his most enduring works) and which features monumentally in my work, dominating the upper half of the canvas. I remember so well that moment when, last summer, my partner and I climbed up the steep hills north of the city to the exact place where Cézanne used to paint the view of the mountain which obsessed him the most – and turning to see that same breathtaking visage which had so captivated this master of modern painting. It was at that moment that I knew I had to make my own homage to that incredible view, and that brilliant artist – and it was at that time when this painting was born.

The keen-eyed amongst you may also notice that I have included a further homage to Cézanne, by featuring his famous card players sat at one of my café tables, as well as a whole host of other details which I now share with you in the gallery of details featured below. Hopefully you will enjoy looking at the individual aspects of this painting as much as I enjoyed painting them. It was, with every brush stroke, like revisiting my holiday to Aix afresh, and for that reason alone, it was surely worth the 7 months slog to complete it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at

Provence Odyssey | Aix: Day 9 – In search of Cézanne

You know that you are approaching Aix when you see the looming multi-dimensional silhouette of the Mont Sainte-Victoire rising up over the horizon. Thanks to the multiple depictions of this magnificent mountain by the city’s most famous son, Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne, the city of Aix-en-Provence, cosmopolitan gem of Southern France, together with its ever faithful mountainous backdrop, has been placed firmly on the cultural map of Europe. They say that one should leave the best till last, and this we surely did when we made Aix the last stop of our 10 day Provençal Odyssey.

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It became immediately clear that Aix is a busy, bustling city, with the sense of something chic and Parisian about it, but at the same time maintaining the sleepy charm of the Provence region. In Aix, the shutters and pastel colours seen across Provence are here in their multitudes, but instead of narrow little streets, here they decorate vast plazas and long tree-lined boulevards. Like the verdant rolling countryside around it, Aix is abundant with plan trees and cypresses, pine trees and olives, yet those trees cast their dappled light not upon fields, but over the exquisitely decorated facades of churches and palaces, of museums and grand cafes, and over the broad pavements which facilitate the art of strolling along shop-lined avenues. And best of all in Aix are the fountains. Said to be the “City of a Thousand Fountains”, the real number is thought to be closer to 100, but Aix is truly abundant in water, in dancing leaping and trickling water, all caught in the great basins of these baroque fountain sculptures, which are at the centre of every square and street.

Aix’s resplendent fountains…

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No wonder Aix is so magnificent – it was the capital of Provence one upon a time, and today is an international students’ town, full of culture, cafes and a general air of excitement. And of course one of the greatest pleasures about visiting Aix is to indulge in all that excitement on offer, to perambulate along its fashionable streets, and to sit by its many fountains, sipping upon a coffee or cooling down with an ice cream or two – more about that later. But my first priority on visiting this city was to discover its most famous resident, the somewhat reclusive artist but often called the Father of Modern Art – Paul Cézanne.

Cézanne grew up and spent most of his life in Aix. Of course he did make a trip or two to Paris, and it was there that he first discovered impressionism. However, it was in the heartland of Southern France that Cézanne really felt at home, and it was undoubtedly the rugged scenery of Provence and the immediate surroundings of Aix that helped to characterise Cézanne’s development from the dappled light of Impressionist works, to the rugged geometric depictions of his Post-Impressionist oeuvre. The origins of cubism had been born.

Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire

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Aix, perhaps predictably, relishes its connection with this foremost artistic genius (although sadly it didn’t at the time Cézanne was painting in the city) and today its tourist office provides an excellent and very comprehensive walking tour both through and around the city, picking up on all of the various places of relevance to both Cézanne and his family along the way. Sadly we did not have time to do the whole tour (although I think we may survive not seeing where Cézanne’s mother’s brother’s friend lived), not least because with Aix basking under the reflective glory of nearby Marseille’s status as European Capital of Culture 2013, there were plenty of cultural activities we wanted to pack into our short two-night stay. However, what we did prioritise was two integral aspects of Cézanne’s life and work in Aix: His studio, and the view of Mont Sainte-Victoire itself.

Cézanne’s studio 

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L’Atelier de Cézanne (the studio of Cézanne) is a good 20 minute walk uphill out of Aix, but it’s a walk taking the earnest visitor gradually out into the verdant pastures of suburban Aix, with views of the city growing gradually more impressive as the road rises. The studio itself provides an absolutely fascinating insight into Cézanne. It’s essentially just a one room museum devoted to Cézanne, but not a museum with story boards and animations – this is simply the artist’s studio, with the various props scattered around which he used in his many still life compositions. Of course Cézanne is as much famous for his still life depictions of apples and oranges as he is for the Mont Sainte-Victoire, but those paintings were more often than not depicting fruit clustered around other objects – old pots and bottles, and a broken mannequin.

It was consequently fascinating to walk into the studio and see before you those same objects which have now become so well-known to the art lover through Cézanne’s works. That broken mannequin for example was immediately recognisable from the Courtauld’s Still Life with Cherub, and there too were the skulls from his Pyramid of Skulls. It was also fascinating to see the methods of his work in this studio which still smells of oil paint and turpentine – his tall ladder to work on larger paintings, and a large vertical hole in the wall through which larger canvases such as his Bathers series (which were painted at this studio) could travel in and out. Meanwhile, outside of the little studio house, the overgrown gardens really give the impression of the kind of solitude and reclusiveness which Cézanne preferred to maintain throughout most of his working life.

Still Life with Cherub (1895)

Still Life with Cherub (1895)

The Basket of Apples (1890-1894)

The Basket of Apples (1890-1894)

The Pyramid of Skulls (1901)

The Pyramid of Skulls (1901)

Still Life, draper, pitcher and fruit bowl (1893-4)

Still Life, draper, pitcher and fruit bowl (1893-4)

The Bathers (1898-1905)

The Bathers (1898-1905)

Studio done, and the creative air of Cézanne breathed in deeply, we headed up hill for about another 20 minutes to visit what is now called “Le Terrain des Peintres” – literally Painter’s Ground – said to be the exact spot where Cézanne would go to paint the magnificent view of the Mont Sainte-Victoire. Today, the space takes the form of pleasantly manicured garden, with some reproductions of his paintings set around the walls of the gardens. But other than that, it is a quiet spot, blissfully free from the tourist hoards who frequented his studio, probably because of its distance from the city, and its lack of parking for coaches.

And the view? Just stunning. In that moment, turning around and catching the view of the glorious pastel-shaded mountain rising out of the field-covered horizon, I felt my breath sucked away from me as in this moment of epiphany I felt myself somehow drawn back into an artistic past – a period of artistic revolution, when the dominance of nature was recognised, when shape was reinvented, and when colour rose to the fore. For me, it was a highpoint of this Provençal Odyssey (both physically and metaphorically), the moment when I realised that  a whole century of artistic progression and development owes its dept to this place, to this artist, to the path from impressionism to cubism which he opened up through his genius and his insight, starting as he did so perhaps one of the most important revolutions of all time.

The magnificent Mont Sainte-Victoire

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More information on visiting Cézanne’s studio can be found here.

Norms do… Cézanne’s Card Players

Although perhaps best known for his repetitive, almost obsessive landscapes of Le Mont Saint Victoire near his home town of Aix-en-Provence, and his groupings of apples and oranges painted as simplified geometric forms with zealously applied paint strokes, the so called father of cubism, post-impressionist master Paul Cézanne also painted another set of rather astonishing works which in my opinion easily qualify as some of his most captivating works. A gloomy tavern, a waxy dark tablecloth, a set of playing cards and the concentration of two card players, focus furrowed deep into their brows as we look upon them in the midst of a game – I am of course talking about Cézanne’s Card Player series, a series of some 5 paintings and numerous preparatory sketches, in which Cezanne took the tradition 17th century French and Dutch genre painting style of a rowdy tavern scene, and reduced it to a simple card game, full of intensity and, surprisingly for its tavern setting, sobriety.

The Courtauld's Card Players

The Courtauld’s Card Players

This now familiar composition by Cézanne, one of which hangs so happily close to me in London’s Courtauld gallery, made the headlines as recently as last year, when sold to the Qatari royal family for around $275 million, it became the most expensive piece of art work ever sold. While the price may be bonkers, and the painting’s final destination into a private collection lamentable, the art loving public can at least be reassured that four versions of the work remain on public view and as if that wasn’t enough, on top of that, the Norms have now staged their own version too!

Norm Card Players (after Cézanne) (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Norm Card Players (after Cézanne) (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Yes, being as, when you read this post, I should be somewhere in the Lavender-scented verdant rolling landscapes of Cézanne’s beloved Provence, and heading to his home town of Aix as my final destination, the Norms thought it only appropriate that before heading off on that trip with me, they would reimagine this renowned Cézanne scene, composed as it is with a rusty authentic depiction of a Provencal tavern complete with what are believed to be two of its local farmers playing cards. The Norm version is based upon the Courtauld’s canvas (above), and consequently the scene concentrates, as Cezanne latterly did, on the two solitary card players rather than two players with spectators such as populate some of the other works from the series. I’m not entirely sure how Norms manage to play cards so well with only one arm, but I suppose they have their ways, as Norms always do…

So without further ado, I leave you to enjoy the Norm Card Players, in this almost still-life, intense moment of concentrated card play. And some of Cezanne’s originals are included too.

Spot the difference…

The d"Orsay Card Players

The d”Orsay Card Players

The Qatari Card Players

The Qatari Card Players

Card Players at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Card Players at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

and at the Met, NY

and at the Met, NY

And some studies…

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A bientot.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.