Among the books I read on Cézanne, two of them focuses on his watercolor. They are Cézanne in the Studio: Still Life in Watercolors by Carol Armstrong, and Cézanne’s Watercolors: Between Drawing and Painting by Matthew Simms.
The two watercolor books are a rich collection of the artist’s sketches, finished and unfinished works in the medium. Watercolor and gouache were often used by old masters as studies for a bigger oil piece, and it seems to the be case for Cézanne early on. However, later in his life, when his reputation began to be established, he increasingly make watercolors as independent works of art.
Cézanne’s watercolor is as unconventional as his oil paintings. The charcoal drawings, the white of the paper, and even the artist’s changing thought all become part of the composition. We see the draft, the negotiating and the final status on one page. This provides a unique window into the artist’s painting and the thinking process.
Unlike J. M. W. Turner (1775 – 1851) and other watercolorists, Cézanne adopts a touch by touch and color by color method. He layers translucent patches with gestural brushwork, resulting in a vibrant and casual overall appearance, with fragmentary and kaleidoscopic details. However, the actual process was deliberate and labor-intensive.
Contemporary figurative artist Ted Nuttall also employs transparent patches of colors to create energetic and vibrant paintings. While both artists are deliberate in their approach, Nuttall’s use of dots helps complete the painting, whereas Cézanne’s colors, used as lines, remain exploratory.
On a side note, for those interested, Cézanne uses a limited palette, as revealed by this nerdy study: “An Investigation of Paul Cézanne’s Watercolors With Emphasis on Emerald Green.”