Paul Cézanne
(Aix-en-Provence, 1839-1906, Aix-en-Provence)
The Temptation of Saint Anthony, ca. 1870
Oil on canvas, 57 x 76 cm
Rewald 167
One of the preconditions of Cézanne’s greatness is his constant readiness to change. In this sense "The Temptation of Saint Anthony", a very strange work in itself, is highly typical of Cézanne. The painter, about thirty years old, destined for a business career by his ambitious father, is still a youthful beginner. Without any real academic training, which he had not obtained in the Académie Suisse in Paris, he relies on finding models among the old masters. Creative restlessness drives him in this picture to flightiness, his Provençal preference for the Baroque to stilted poses and theatrical gestures. The female nudes with their uncouth limbs appear bloated, drapery frames them like rococo shells. In front of a turbulent appearance of four temptresses the saint, bearing the features of the young Cézanne, retreats into the left background, without the artist’s having succeeded in making this clear in terms of perspective. Cézanne’s rough brushwork, called by the artist himself his "manière couillarde", "slinging style", renounces all differentiation and slaps down the chalky white figures directly on to the dark background. As for its date of execution, the picture belongs to the period between the "Abduction" of 1867 and the "Idyll" of 1870, being closer to the latter. Cézanne was occupied with the theme of the temptation of St. Anthony several times in the 70s. The crouching nude in the foreground with her hair falling behind becomes a richly varied component of his "Bathers" down to the great compositions done at the end of his life.