Cézanne’s Portrait of Geffroy (1895) and later portraits

Cézanne's Portrait of Gustave Geffroy is said to hold the same iconic place in Cézanne's oeuvre that the Portrait of Zola does in Manet's.1 It is notable then that Theodore Reff sees "a dark, flickering spirituality" in this and other later portraits. He also notes that if Cézanne can "embody [in these and other portraits]..the dignity and restraint that are so characteristic of his own behavior, it is because [these faces] represent for him.... an unassuming simplicity and natural nobility which he admires and with which he can identify the finest qualities in himself."2

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Captions for image(s) above:

Cézanne, Portrait of Gustave Geffroy (1895) Louvre, Paris

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Reff's ability to perceive Cézanne's own persona in these late figures is, of course, correct. He could have added that Geffroy's features which he described as "a pleasant mask" are, in fact, a younger variation of Cézanne's own3. A contemporaneous photograph reveals the same pattern to the eyebrows, the same shape face and nose above the same droop to the moustache. Even their black coats resemble each other with Geffroy's wide-cut lapels somewhat lower down the chest.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Cézanne's Portrait of Gustave Geffroy
Right: Contemporaneous photograph of Cézanne

 

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Cézanne's Portrait of Joachim Gasquet from a year later has one eye open, the other virtually blacked out, a motif we have shown has a long history in the history of art as a symbol of an artist's dual perception: inwards and outwards. Gasquet, it would then appear, also represents Cézanne. That is probably why Gasquet's teacher when he saw the portrait years later remarked: "I thought I had plumbed the soul of my pupil, and yet this portrait shows me a Gasquet I did not know. I see now that the real Gasquet was not the ingenuous creature I took him for."4 Cézanne, of course, never intended an accurate representation of Gasquet's character but of his own creative spirit.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Cézanne, Portrait of Joachim Gasquet (1896) Modern Gallery of Art, Prague

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The third portrait, three years later, of Cézanne's dealer has mask-like face too, so overpainted that it appears cut-out from his hair. Reff remarked that the face "says little about Vollard's colorful and crafty personality."5

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Captions for image(s) above:

Cézanne, Portrait of Amboise Vollard (1899) Musée du Petit Palais, Paris

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It does, however, resemble a self-portrait from fifteen years earlier, showing the artist  much younger than he actually was. Reff's insights then into these late portraits are fully supported by our own methods. "Cézanne", he writes, "makes the very process by which he transforms nature into art the very substance of his art."5 In other words, he studied the workings of his own mind and portrayed those mental processes on canvas and paper. He was not alone, as we try to show; he learnt his methods from his predecessors.

Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Cézanne's Portrait of Amboise Vollard
Right: Cézanne, Self-Portrait with a Turquoise-Green Background (c.1885)

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Notes:

1. Reff, "Painting and Theory in the Final Decade" in Cézanne: The Late Years (New York: Museum of Modern Art) 1977, p.14

2. ibid., p.22

4. ibid, p.14

5. ibid.,p.21

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