Look carefully at Plate 1.3.5, Paul Cézanne, Bathers (c.1894-1906), and Plate 1.3.6, Palma Vecchio, Bathing Nymphs (c.1525/8), in the Illustration Book. Discuss what you think are the most significant differences between the two paintings.

This essay will focus on two paintings by Paul Cézanne and Palma Vecchio which I will analyse briefly and juxtapose so as to show differences and similarities.

Bathers by Paul Cézanne was established between 1894 and 1906.

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It is considered an impressionist painting, an art movement accompanied by the avant-garde movement which claimed ‘the priority of aesthetic values over the material and the commercial’ (Open University, AA100,2012, Book 1, Reputations,p.83,l.24).

As opposed to that, Palma Vecchio had painted his bathing nymphs between 1525-1528 during the Renaissance which aimed to revive ancient Greek aesthetics and keep a rather traditionalist style of arts by being timeless and perpetual.

Both paintings are presented from a front view, the light coming slightly from the left, which is indicated by darker outlines on the women on the right.

Cézanne shows eleven women at what can be assumed a pond, hidden behind high grass. The scenery is framed by trees and the women are completely nude. In the centre of the painting is a woman lying in a posture which Cézanne has often used since ‘women, even when clothed, frightened him’ (Vollard, 1914,p.96, AA100,2012, Book 1, Reputations, Open University p.76,l.24).

All women are closely gathered, except for one on the right, standing further in the distance. It is striking that his models neither have real faces nor fine body shapes. Typical for modernist artists, Cézanne tries not to translate emotions by showing them openly but by keeping the wholeness of an emotion without altering it through any form of judgement (AA100,2012, Book 1, Reputations, Open University , p.77,ll.27-29).

As opposed to Cézannes Bathers, Vecchio’s thirteen ‘Nymphs’ in cloths have clear faces and facial expressions, as well as fine body shapes and seem rather posed and unnatural (Inside Art, Open University, 2012).

Both paintings seem self-sufficient and allow the viewer to peek at the scenery.

Vecchio’s static nature appears to be more timeless and aesthetic than Cézanne’s dynamic scenery which is supported by his lively use of colours.

Bathers consists of three dominant colours, being blue, green and complementary shades of orange/brown.

As the light is rather diffused, Cézanne uses gradual shading and a narrow range of tone. Despite his use of complementary colours and very dark and light blue, these shades appear only ulterior (e.g. on the trunks) and are melanged with more moderate shades, so that overall the painting does not seem lurid.

Cézanne’s use of colour makes it hard to identify a certain night-/daytime but rather shows the process of painting an ever-changing scenery (Mark Haywood, in conversation, 2 November 2012; http://www.artble.com/artists/paul_cezanne/paintings/the_large_bathers).

Vecchio, in contrast, clearly shows a daytime scenery. His tonal range is much wider than Cézanne’s and his shading is indeed gradual, especially in the back with the blue mountain area, however, it is also much clearer and sharper, contrasting the pale skin of the women to the dark brown trees they are leaning against.

The colours are tinted and smooth, matching the timeless character of the painting which is static and perpetual.

The picture plane in Bathing Nymphs seems wide due to the precise, linear brushwork and allows the viewer to enter the painting’s world which is framed to the right side by a tree, however, as opposed to Cézanne’s painting, the viewer is allowed to ‘wander off’ to a building in the left background. Although both artists use aerial perspective and a wide picture space, Vecchio adds a sense of depth through mountains and buldings, whereas Cézanne shows a background limited by high grass and clouds.

Due to Cézanne’s painterly brushwork and sometimes sketchy style, as well as the thickly applied colour, the picture plane seems flat and deranges the unhindered immerging into the painting.

In conclusion, Cézanne’s painting is, even though he did try to create a more timeless work than typical for his period of art (AA100,2012, Book 1, Reputations, Open University , p.73,ll.37-38), much more vivid and dynamic, whereas Vecchio has created a timeless, solid painting reminding of Greek arts and aesthetics.

References:

Open University, AA100,2012, Book 1, Reputations

Vollard, 1914,p.96, AA100,2012, Book 1, Reputations, Open University

Inside Art, Open University, 2012

Mark Haywood, in conversation, 2 November 2012 http://www.artble.com/artists/paul_cezanne/paintings/the_large_bathers

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