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“Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory” by Paul Cézanne

Madame Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet, 1850–1922) in the Conservatory MET DP317780

“Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory” by Paul Cézanne

“Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory” by Paul Cézanne is an unfinished portrait of the artist’s wife. This painting shows Cézanne’s working method. Cézanne placed the head slightly off-centre, between a tree and a plant, and then proceeded to build up a pyramidal composition, brushstroke by brushstroke. 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 hid 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.

Reflections

  • Why is this portrait of the artist’s wife unfinished?
  • Cézanne went to great lengths to hide his liaison with Fiquet from his father. How did this impact their relationship? Does this picture provide clues?
  • What does this unfinished painting show you about Cézanne’s working method?

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Madame Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet) in the Conservatory

  • Title:               Madame Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet) in the Conservatory
  • Artist:             Paul Cézanne
  • Year:               1891
  • Medium:        Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:   36 1/4 x 28 3/4 in. (92.1 x 73 cm)
  • Museum:         Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET and Met Breuer

Paul Cézanne

  • Name:             Paul Cézanne
  • Born:               1839 – Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Died:                1906 (aged 67) – Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Nationality: French
  • Movement:  Post-Impressionism

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“We live in a rainbow of chaos.”
– Paul Cézanne

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

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