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Cezanne: A Life [Hardcover]

Alex Danchev
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Oct. 23 2012

With 32-pages of full-color inserts, and black-and-white illustrations throughout.

Alex Danchev gives us the first comprehensive assessment of the revolutionary work and restless life of Paul Cézanne to be published in decades. One of the most influential painters of his time and beyond, Cézanne was the exemplary artist-creator of the modern age who changed the way we see the world.
With brisk intellect, rich documentation, and eighty-eight color and fifty-two black-and-white illustrations, Danchev tells the story of an artist who was originally considered a madman, a barbarian, and a sociopath. Beginning with the unsettled teenager in Aix, Danchev takes us through the trials of a painter who believed that art must be an expression of temperament but was tormented by self-doubt, who was rejected by the Salon for forty years, who sold nothing outside his immediate circle until his thirties, who had a family that he kept secret from his father until his forties, who had his first exhibition at the age of fifty-six—but who fiercely maintained his revolutionary beliefs. Danchev shows us how the beliefs Cézanne held and the life he led became the obsession and inspiration of artists, writers, poets, and philosophers from Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso to Samuel Beckett and Allen Ginsberg. A special feature of the book is a remarkable series of Cézanne’s self-portraits, reproduced in full color.
Cézanne is not only the fascinating life of a visionary artist and extraordinary human being but also a searching assessment of his ongoing influence in the artistic imagination of our time. A stunning portrait of a monumentally important artist, this is a biography not to be missed.

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Advance Praise for Cézanne
“Impressive . . . Danchev has researched every facet and nuance of Paul Cézanne’s life. [He] rightly subscribes to the theory that understanding the man is important to understanding his work.”
—Kirkus Reviews
“A major work of scholarship. With great sensitivity and genuine brio, Danchev paints a compelling portrait of the artist, who managed to overcome the demons that haunted him to transform himself into what many consider the greatest painter of his age. This is the best account to date of Cézanne’s astonishing career—a book that will survive the test of time.”
—John Golding, author of Visions of the Modern
Praise for Georges Braque
“A vivid and cogent portrayal of a grave and moral man.”
—Julian Barnes, The Guardian, “Books of the Year”
“In this first biography of Braque, Danchev has produced an extraordinary book which, though very different in style from John Richardson’s Picasso or Hilary Spurling’s Matisse, matches theirs in interest. Its brisk account is written with compelling urgency.”
—Frances Spalding, The Independent
“The fun-filled partnership between Braque and Picasso is brought to glorious life in this new biography.”
—Peter Conrad, The Observer
“A pleasure to read: persuasive, rewarding, controversial, and, above all, witty.”
—Modern Painters

About the Author

ALEX DANCHEV was educated at University College, Oxford; Trinity Hall, Cambridge; and King’s College London. He is the author of several highly acclaimed biographies, including Georges Braque. His most recent books are a collection of essays, On Art and War and Terror, and 100 Artists’ Manifestos. He writes regularly for The Times Literary Supplement and Times Higher Education. He has held fellowships at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.; St. Antony’s College, Oxford; and King’s College London. He is a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham. He lives in England.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The man and his art Feb. 13 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a first rate study of Cézanne and his art. Danchex explores the very subtle yet ground breaking work of one of the great painters of the nineteenth century. I would have entitled the book differently for it concentrates on what Cézanne accomplished, rather than his life. I would recommend it to anyone interested in art.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary scholarship, very good read. Jan. 4 2013
By Sharon Knettell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As an artist I am often leery of biographies of artists as they tend to glamorize the more salacious aspects of an artists life.-This did not- perhaps because Cezanne was more monk-like in his dedication to his art. I learned a great deal about his extraordinary work methods- his insistence, in trooping out day after day painting and experiencing his landscapes. This is contrary to much current practice of landscape copiers- I can't even call them painters, who snap photos and retire to the studio to finish them up. I was teaching a figurative workshop in Scottsdale, Arizona- a place of breathtaking vistas when I passed a 'landscape class'. The students were all inside, lined up on long tables, while the instructor showed them how to copy the small pictures taped next to their canvasses. Cezanne was one with his landscapes. He felt them and it it extaordinarily evident in the originality of his painting of them- they are not mere renderings.

He painted his apples and portraits with the same intense scrutiny, strangely he painted his nudes from his head or old school drawings.

There are some wonderful descriptions of his methodology and the artist matierials he used. Danchev describes the colors and pigment Cezanne used- useful to any painter. I would have loved a bit more of that.

The only quibble I have with this book is a lay person trying to get inside a head of a painter- Danchev did a fair job, but I wish art writers or critics would like Adam Gopnik take drawing lessons from Jacob Collins just to see what a struggle it is to learn how to draw. Maybe then we would have better art critics and biographers who are more in tune with their subjects.

The picture reference could be better- they are small- but this should impel a visit to a museum so see them- well worth the trip.

All in all it is a wonderful book and a good read. It leads to a greater appreciation and understanding of the enormous impact Cezanne had on art.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful biography Feb. 24 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an impressive work: prodigious research, lively presentation, and written from a very compassionate point of view. Working my way through the biography, I felt each chapter giving me a bit more information or another point of view until by the closing chapters I felt I had acquired a satisfying sense of who the man was from his own words, from the events of his life, from contemporary accounts, and from other appreciations (notably for me the wonderfully sensitive and expressive Rilke). But the book is work. It is written beautifully but organized less than helpfully with footnotes all collected at the end and illustration legends at the front. This is a shame, because the illustrations are well discussed and the footnotes are themselves full of fascinating information. But the laborious layout is a minor matter compared to the pleasure of reading this warm and intelligent account.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterwork March 21 2013
By Erstwhile - Published on Amazon.com
I've read several Cezanne biographies and gave them away when I read this one. This is the biography of Cezanne that he deserves. Comprehensive, scholarly, and richly detailed, it is never boring. Danchev provides excellent insights into the paintings, the people, and the times as well -- all with a novelist's touch that reminds me of Richardson's writing on Picasso.

If you are at all interested in western art of the 19th century and beyond, you cannot miss this book.

Disclaimer: I have no connection whatsoever with either the author or his publisher.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alex Danchev's elegant examination through words and pictures of Aix's Paul Cezanne Jan. 17 2013
By C. M Mills - Published on Amazon.com
Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) has been called the Father of Modern Art. Cezanne was born in Aix, France near Marseilles. He was a lifelong friend of Emile Zola (1840-1902) the great naturalist novelist of such works as "Germinal" and "Therese Raquin." Zola also wrote a novel "The Masterpiece" in which he used his pal Cezanne as a model for his main character.Zola and Cezanne met when the were at school. Cezanne shielded the unpopular Zola from the slings and arrows sent his way by fellow students. Cezanne's closest friend in the art world was Camille Pissaro. Pissaro was a god to the impressionist art movers and shakers. Cezanne was also on a friendly plane with such luminaries as Renoir, Degas, Monet and Manet. He had a solitary but polite personality. Cezanne was shy but strong willed. The great artist painted slowly using heavy strokes in his painting. Cezann enjoyed plein-air work and was an omnivorous reader in many fields including literature, philosophy and art. He mastered his art.
Cezanne came from a wealthy and well respected family. His father was an affluent banker. Lad Cezanne had two sisters Marie and Rose. He had troubles with his family not admitting that he had fathered a child by a woman named Hortense. Cezanne and his son Paul were close throughout their lives.
Alex Danchev is the author of this beautiful biography of a great man. The book is well illustrated with 86 color plates and 52 black and white illustrations. Danchev quotes extensively from the writings of Zola, Cezanne and their friends and critics.
Cezanne was sent to Paris to study law but found painting more congenial to his genius. The artist lived modestly but did inherit a large income from his father following the elder Cezanne's death in the 1880s. Among Cezanne's masterpieces are "The Bathers"; "The Card Game"; several portraits of prominent Parisians and his own self-portraits painted during his life. Danchev analyzes these works with erudition and insight. Cezanne sold few paintings in his life not having his first exhibition until the late age of 56. Danchev also comments on the Cezanne inflence in the art of such diverse artists as Pablo Picasso, Sameul Beckett and Allen Ginsberg.
Cezanne was often disdained by the academic French Art Academy. The artist was accused of being a gauche barbarian, madman and bad painter. Depsite the disdain of the Academy we now recognize Paul Cezanne as one of France's and the world's greatest artist.
The book is written in a scholarly style. Many of the chapters are written in the style of essays. The book is not for beginners of art studies. This is the best popular biography of Paul Cezanne, his art and the world of nineteenth century France in which he lived and flourised. Bravo Danchev!
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Masterful research, good writing, not for the faint at heart Dec 26 2012
By S. Koterbay - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the first biography that I've read about Cézanne, so I have nothing to compare it to, but it certainly equals the best artists' biographies (Jackson Pollock: An American Saga is always my perfect example against which others are judged) that I've read in the past. Presenting not only a rather complete take on Cézanne's life but a nexus of relationships across literary, visual, and social forces and influences that were both direct and indirect, Danchev does an excellent job of not only portraying the man but the time he lived in. That being said, even though the main text is less than 400 words (not counting the bibliography, notes, index, etc.), this is a wordy and dense text in a rather old fashion way; that's not to say it isn't good, but to say that there is nothing of critical or literary theory herein (perhaps that's a relief) and there's nothing superficial anywhere (everything is important). To put it another way, if you're not looking up unfamiliar names (and there were enough for me, and I'm pretty well versed in the art historical time period) then you're going to do yourself, the author, and the book an injustice when you start skimming through pages. Don't do this- look stuff up, learn, and be amazed at the level of detailed research Danchev has conducted- and definitely don't expect this to be a one-night read.
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