Susan Sidlauskas and the Many Faces of Hortense Cézanne

In a relatively recent book on Paul Cézanne's portraits of his wife, Hortense, Susan Sidlauskas examines the nearly 30 images he made of her over a fourteen-year period in greater detail than has ever been done before. It is an important subject because, despite the many years in which the modern master and his wife lived apart, no other sitter received as much sustained attention from the "lone wolf of Aix" as did Hortense. Many of the themes around which Sidlauskas weaves her narrative will strike a chord with users here, including an extended reflection on the androgynous features of these portraits.

Sidlauskas' basic observation is that several of the portraits of Hortense "without their titles… would hardly be recognizable as the same person, thereby violating one of the cardinal rules of traditional portraiture." Hortense seems to have no stable likeness. Some of her facial features do re-occur in more than one portrait, Sidlauskas notes, but "for every feature repeated…. another deviates from the pattern." The variations of her persona "appear to operate on a fundamental visceral level, as if a different person entirely occupied each frame - or, perhaps more radically, as if the artist conjured a different person into being for each portrait." She notes that "his collective paintings of her forsake resemblance, jettison conventional notions of identity, and test the boundaries of how the self, along with the non-self who confronts and resists it, is defined, contained, and represented."

I highly recommend her book, Cézanne's Other: The Portraits of Hortense (University of California Press) 2009

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