Portraits by Cézanne “Reading the model, and bringing it to fruition, can sometimes be a very slow process for the artist,” said Cézanne at the end of his life. Throughout his career, he regularly painted portraits of friends, strangers and, more rarely, prominent figures in the art world.
He produced self-portraits on a number of occasions. This commitment to portraiture has been less frequently studied and less well understood than his still lifes, bathers and landscapes, and is often associated with a general approach which aims in purely artistic terms to establish a “harmony in parallel with nature”.
Cézanne's portraits clearly trace the rich and complex development of an artist who demonstrates unprecedented originality and independence in his works from the very outset.
However, form aside, glimpses of the artist's private life and even very personal confessions can be detected in these faces: his complex relationship with his wife and partner who posed for him over a period of many years, and the projection in his depiction of elderly peasants of his attachment to a terroir and thus to the material aspect of his work at its most elementary level, despite his lofty intellectual concerns.
First works, first portraits Although portraits account for fewer than two hundred of the thousand or so works produced by Cézanne, his career began with self-portraits and portraits of his family.
The unconventional nature of his early work emerges very powerfully in his first portraits, both in the very thick treatment of paint and in the highly effective schematic depiction of faces. However, this original approach was not self-taught – Cézanne was a frequent visitor to museums, had several teachers and gained admittance into avant-garde Parisian circles in the late 1860s.
It is not surprising that Cézanne's portrait of Achille Emperaire was rejected by the Salon in 1870 as it marked a complete departure from the time-honoured rules of portraiture still followed in the late Second Empire. Portraiture was undeniably in this early phase the genre in which Cézanne developed most fully in an unparalleled aesthetic journey, earning himself a reputation as an exceptional artist over a period spanning several decades.