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“Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress” by Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne, 1888-90, Madame Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet, 1850–1922) in a Red Dress, oil on canvas, 116.5 x 89.5 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

“Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress” by Paul Cézanne

“Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress” by Paul Cézanne is a portrait of the artist’s wife wearing a shawl-collared red dress seated in a high-backed yellow chair. Madame Cézanne is placed in a spatially complex composition which includes a mirror over the fireplace on the left and a richly coloured heavy cloth on the right. The subject, Marie-Hortense Fiquet Cézanne (1850 – 1922) was a former artist’s model, who met Cézanne about 1869; they had a son in 1872, and later married. Paul Cézanne painted 27 portraits, mostly in oil of her and she became his most-painted model.

Marie-Hortense Fiquet met Cézanne at a Paris art school in which was used by some artists as a place to meet each other and to paint the models who worked there. Fiquet’s primary job was as a bookseller and bookbinder, but she combined this with part-time work as a model. They started a relationship; however, Cézanne was afraid of offending his father, a well-to-do banker, and to not compromise his allowance, he went to great lengths to conceal his liaison with Fiquet.

Fiquet and Cézanne eventually married. However, Fiquet was to live separately from her husband for much of their married life, and they later separated. The psychological distance between husband and wife appears to be reflected in her portraits where Cézanne gives the impression of her being distant and self-absorbed. Despite their complicated relationship, a large number of paintings by Cézanne of his wife attests to her compelling role in the artist’s life and artistic development.

Paul Cézanne was a Post-Impressionist painter who laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th-century Impressionism to the 20th century’s Cubism. Both Matisse and Picasso have remarked that Cézanne “is the father of us all.” Cézanne’s art is characterised by repetitive, exploratory small brushstrokes that build up to form complex colour fields, demonstrating his intense study of his subjects.

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Photo Credit: Paul Cézanne [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons