The House of the Hanged Man at Auvers

Question: Explain why you think this painting was dismissed so scathingly by some critics when it was exhibited with the Independents in 1874.

‘The House of the Hanged Man at Auvers’ was one of Cezanne’s early landscape paintings, first exhibited in 1874. At this time, paintings using traditional techniques and classical themes were still the established norm accepted by the Paris Salon Jurors who, as Harrison says ‘were heavily influenced by the traditional values of the Academy of Fine Arts’ (Harrison, Reputations 2008, p.58) and where most artists sought recognition.   Cezanne challenged this view by using new methods and techniques that expressed his own understanding of classical themes to depict his landscapes. This landscape is in a style that was, perhaps, transitional between classical art and a modernist approach. This essay will explore what was considered artistic excellence by the Salon Jurors at this time, and why they were so dismissive of this particular painting.

‘The House of the Hanged Man at Auvers’ was painted fairly early in Cezanne’s career, using methods that did not conform to the established traditional, classical style.   Cezanne painted this landscape depicting nature in a way that he felt reflected its true meaning, ‘the immediate sensation of nature’ (Harrison, Reputations Book, 2008 p.73). Cezanne’s use of paint and brushwork attracted much criticism. As the reviewer, Jean Prouvaire, remarked “No known jury has ever, even in its dreams, imagined the possibility of accepting a single work by this painter” (Reputations, 2008 p.60). The Jurors expected quality of workmanship and realistic representations, achieved to a large extent by very fine, accurate brushwork, where the viewer is unable to discern individual brush strokes.   For instance, in Bouguereau’s ‘Bathers’ (Plate 1.3.12, Illustration Book, 2008 p.16) the extremely fine brushwork creates an almost photographic image. Cezanne’s technique was very different, in that he...