Ten Things You Might Not Know About Cezanne
1. He had a mysterious love affair with a woman in the spring of 1885.
According to John Rewald, Cézanne’s most influential biographer, this was a “violent love affair.” An unaddressed letter expressing his devotion was found among the artist’s papers. In Cézanne’s Quarry, the alluring mysterious lover is Solange Vernet, whom investigating magistrate Bernard Martin finds strangled in Bibémus Quarry.
2. He was a draft-dodger.
In 1870 when his name was called to serve in the Franco-Prussian war, Cézanne took off with his mistress, Hortense Ficquet, and moved from Aix to the nearby town of Estaque. The citizens of Aix did not hold this against him or his family.
3. He was an amateur geologist.
In his twenties, Cézanne painted and hunted for fossils with his boyhood friend, Antoine-Fortuné Marion. During these explorations, Marion, who studied and eventually taught geology at Marseilles, explained the ancient formation of the landscapes around Aix to his companion. In Cézanne’s Quarry, the painter applies this knowledge and love of his native Provence to his work. And he contemptuously refers to his rival in love, the English geologist Charles Westerbury, as a charlatan and an intruder.
4. His best friend was Émile Zola.
They were inseparable during their boyhood in Aix. Together they were going to “conquer France” through their art. Zola appears in Cézanne’s Quarry at the height of his fame as the country’s greatest writer, while the painter is still struggling for recognition. Their friendship ended in 1886 when Cézanne assumed he was the subject of Zola’s unflattering portrait of an artist in the novel L’Oeuvre.
5. He painted violent and erotic pictures in his youth.
The Strangled Woman (1866) and The Murder (1867) become important clues in Cézanne’s Quarry because the woman depicted has the same golden red hair as Solange Vernet. Bernard Martin is also struck by the lewdness of the Eternal Feminine (1877), in which a naked red-haired woman sits, legs spread, high above adoring men from all walks of life, one of whom is easily identifiable as the artist.
6. He kept the existence of his beloved son a secret from his father for 14 years.
Cézanne’s rich skinflint father insisted that a man should not marry until he could support a family. By the time of Cézanne’s Quarry (1885), the artist’s mistress, Hortense Ficquet, is eager to legitimate their relationship and does everything she can to prevent Cézanne’s being tried for murder.
7. He obsessively painted Mont Sainte-Victoire.
There are 44 oils and 43 watercolors of the mountain still extant. One of these paintings, Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bibémus Quarry, (at the Baltimore Museum of Art) forms the last scene of Cézanne’s Quarry.
8. He once claimed his favorite food was “potatoes in oil.”
This was probably tongue-in-cheek. But Cézanne did love the simple foods of Provence: olive oil, fish, olives, tomatoes, as well as potatoes, according to Jean-Bernard Naudin’s Cézanne—A Taste of Provence (1995). He also loved to eat them in a simple way, as Mary Cassatt’s memory of his scraping his soup bowl with his spoon attests.
9. He tore up his paintings with a pen knife when he was frustrated with the results.
One of these fragments is found near the murder scene in Cézanne’s Quarry. He would not return to paint in the quarry until the 1890’s.
10. He did not eat out often, but you can still dine at one of his favorite cafés.
Les Deux Garçons, 53 cours Mirabeau, in Aix has been around since 1792. For more details on other Cézanne sightings, see The World of Cézanne’s Quarry, Yesterday and Today.