The country of Emile Zola
Born in Paris on April 2nd, 1840, Zola was three years old when his parents moved to Aix.
His father was planning to build a dam and a canal to supply water for the city. He died in 1847 before his project was completed, leaving his family in a difficult financial situation. Zola’s father wasn’t notable. He was an immigrant, even if he was an engineer, who came to work in Provence.
Zola was “labeled” a foreigner by the right-minded at the time. As Cezanne reminded, their friendship began in the courtyard of Bourbon College: “Zola was daydreaming… A wild stubborn, a delicate thoughtful guy! You know, of the type the kids hate … for no reason, he was put in quarantine… and even our friendship comes from this… from a beating that the whole courtyard gave me because I was getting over this… I could not help but talk to him anyway.”
During the fifteen years he would spend in Aix, Zola, in addition to his jaunts with Baille and Cezanne in the countryside, had the time to observe the city, to record the images that would go into his work. He would describe it under the guise of Flassans; Zola modified the name, renamed the streets, but the sleepy city of this bourgeois 19th century is recognizable
In 1858, he left Aix to rejoin his mother in Paris, but was in correspondence with his friends whom he saw for the summer holidays. Failing two times to obtain his baccalaureate , he decided to give up on his studies. In the 1860’s, he work for Hachette as the head of advertising.
In 1866, he became an art critic for the weekly “l’Evenement illustré”. Zola confronted the official circles of painting by supporting the impressionists. But around this period, he is less inclined to appreciate the paintings of Cezanne. Their former complicity is gone. With the publication of the “Rougon-Maquart”, a series of twenty novels describing the history of two families under the second empire, Zola became a famous writer. But it’s the publication of one of these novels, in 1886, that would mark the end of his friendship with the painter. Inspired by Cezanne, he creates the character of artist Claude Lantier, a failed painter, an aborted genius who is friends with Sandoz, a writer. The artist is hurt by this barely hidden reflection. The two men would never meet again.
In 1898, Zola violently took part in the Dreyfus case, for which he would writer his famous article “J’accuse”. Four years later, the 29th of September 1902, he died of asphyxia in his Parisian flat. Cezanne, hearing of the news, locked himself up in his workshop of the lauves.
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