Matisse’s Portrait of Auguste Pellerin II (1917)

In his 2001 book on Matisse's portraits John Klein observes that Matisse did not project his personality onto his sitters but that "he saw his sitters as members of the groups that were most important to him."

Klein observes that in Matisse's portrait of the businessman Auguste Pellerin the artist did not imagine himself as the man of commerce but that Pellerin's status as an art collector (with important paintings by Cézanne and Renoir) must have appealed to him. He concludes, "Matisse did not want to be like Pellerin, but he wanted some of the same things Pellerin wanted and by virtue of his wealth and drive had accumulated."1 It is a cautious way of saying: Pellerin represents the artist.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Matisse, Portrait of Auguste Pellerin II (1917) Oil on canvas. Pompidou Center, Paris

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Later on Klein notes that while Pellerin did not seem to like either of the two portraits Matisse painted of him, the second (and now more famous) looks strikingly like Cézanne in old age. We cannot know, he again adds warily, whether Pellerin actually resembled Cézanne, whether Matisse made him resemble Cézanne or whether the resemblance was coincidence.2 Yes, we can: it is surely not the latter. One great artist's identification with another is so strong and so common that many have projected the image of an earlier artist onto their portrait sitters, as can be seen in articles under the Theme Artist as Other Artist.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Auguste Pellerin II
R: Detail of Cezanne's face from a 1904 photograph by Emile Bernard

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Despite Klein's unnecessary caution, he is well aware that Matisse used his sitters as projections of himself. He notes that "most of Matisse's early portraits represent children - younger surrogates for the young artist, in the process [like him] of forming their own identities."3

Note too that Pellerin proudly wears the red rosette of the Légion d'Honneur, an honor Manet famously desired his whole life until finally being granted it as he awaited death. References to the honor occur throughout Manet's art, references Matisse would have known.4 It thus seems likely that Matisse's Pellerin-as-Cezanne is, in a slightly more complex way, a reference to Matisse-as-Manet-and-Cezanne.

Captions for image(s) above:

Matisse, Portrait of Auguste Pellerin II (1917) Pompidou Center, Paris

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

1. John Klein, Matisse Portraits (New Haven: Yale University Press) 2001, p. 33

2. ibid. p.179

3. ibid. p. 35

4. See as two examples Manet's The Suicide and Croquet at Boulogne. Other paintings by Manet that make reference to the honor will be added shortly.

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