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Picasso and Cézanne

In 1943, Pablo Picasso declared to photographer George Brassaï that artist Paul Cézanne was “my one and only master.”

The seminal moment for Picasso was the Cézanne retrospective held at the Salon d’Automne one year after the artist’s death in 1906. Though he previously had been familiar with Cézanne, it was not until the retrospective that Picasso experienced the full impact of his artistic achievement. As he later put it: “Cézanne’s influence gradually flooded everything.”

Cézanne’s insistence on redoing nature according to a system of basic forms was important to Picasso’s own interest at that time. In Cézanne’s work Picasso found a model of how to distill the essential from nature in order to achieve a cohesive surface that expressed the artist’s singular vision. Beginning in 1907, Picasso began to experiment with Cézanne’s techniques alongside fellow artist Georges Braque. Cézanne was a constant touchstone for the two artists during this period of collaboration, which eventually resulted in the invention of Cubism by 1909. Throughout Picasso’s stylistic evolution over the next seven decades, he continued to borrow from and reinterpret Cézanne’s art.

This special presentation celebrates not only Cézanne’s reinvention of the most common categories of painting—still life, landscape, bathers—through his signature techniques in oil painting and watercolor, which attracted Picasso, but also both artists’ shared connection to the Art Institute of Chicago. The year 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known as the Armory Show, a highly controversial display of contemporary art, which was shown at the Art Institute and introduced the works of both Cézanne and Picasso to the Chicago public. In 1926, Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples and Picasso’s Old Guitarist were donated to the museum as part of the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.