Cézanne’s Practice of Painting and the Ethics of Epicureanism

There is much evidence that Cézanne was an avid reader of Lucretius. But just how far did his commitment to classical atomism go? This article speculates upon the question: what if Cézanne was an Epicurean? How does this change the way we look at his paintings? Limiting myself to the portraits, I try to interpret some of Cézanne’s unusual tropes in the light of Epicurean thinking. In the final section of the paper I contrast some famous interpretations of Cézanne’s work (Roger Fry, Kurt Badt, and Merleau-Ponty) with the classical atomism of Epicurus, as well as some other modern day materialists, in order to tease out the ethical claims embodied in Cézanne’s paintings.

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