We cannot talk of Cézanne without mentioning Emile Zola. Despite their "separation", these two giants of history are forever linked.
Born in Paris on 2 April 1840, Zola was three years old when his parents settled in Aix. His father planned the construction of a dam and of a canal designed to supply the town with water.
He died in 1847, before having seen his project completed, and left his family in a difficult financial situation. Zola’s father was not a notable. He was an immigrant, although an engineer, who came to work in
Provence, and we do not know whether Zola was called a "foreigner" by the self-satisfied people of the time.
As Cézanne reminds us, their friendship began in the Bourbon college courtyard. "Zola was always day-dreaming...a stubborn wild one. A thoughtful sickly man!...you know, the type kids hate...he was ostracised for nothing...Even our friendship results from that...from a good beating that the whole ground, little and large, gave me, because I paid no heed...I couldn’t help talking to him
When he was not off on adventures with Cézanne, over the five years he spent in Aix, Zola found the time to observe the town, to record the images that were to appear in his work. He later described this under the traces of Plassans; Zola changed the name, re-christened the streets, but we can still recognise the sleeping town of this 19th century bourgeois. In 1858 he left Aix to join his mother in Paris, but carried on writing frequent letters to his friends he was to see on return from his summer holidays.Having failed his baccalaureate twice, he decided to give up his studies. In the 1860s he worked for the Hachette library as Advertising Director.
In 1866, he became an art critic for the daily "l’Evénement Illustré". Zola opposed the official
painting circles and took up the cause of the impressionists. From then on, however, he became
less inclined to appreciate Cézanne’s painting.The former bond no longer existed. With the
publishing of the "Rougon-Macquart", a series of twenty novels describing the history of the two
families under the second empire, Zola became a famous novelist. But it was also one of the novels
to appear in 1886, l'Oeuvre, which was to toll the knell on his friendship with the painter. Seeking
inspiration from Cézanne, he created the character of the artist Claude Lantier, an artist failure, an
aborted genius, who had befriended Sandoz, a writer.The artist was hurt by this image which was
hardly veiled.The two men did not meet again. In 1898, Zola violently took part in the Dreyfus
Affair, for which he wrote his famous article, "J’accuse". Four years later, on 29 September 1902,
he died, suffocated in his Parisian apartment. When he heard the news, Cézanne shut himself in
his Lauves studio..