Another in the great series of broadcasts shown in local cinemas, this was a fascinating look at Cezanne’s portraits – often overlooked despite them making up a significant part of his output over the years – and the first time they have been exhibited as a collection.
The exhibition is travelling between New York, Paris and London, still on show at the National Portrait Gallery in London until February 2018. This is an ideal way to view paintings up close – much closer than you would be able to as a visitor to a gallery. Cezanne did not see himself as a portrait artist, yet this collection shows how skillful he was at representing the individual including himself, and “gives a greater sense of the man” himself.
One of the early self-portraits shows him as a fierce young man, aggressive even, and a stark, realistic image that is actually very much like his photograph at the time. There are many self-portraits in the collection, his last one in 1900, his most famous one showing him in a bowler hat. He had a portrait of his father accepted by the salon, although it was emphasized that he generally found his family “very annoying”!
By 1870 he was using a lighter palette, with small diagonal brush strokes and introducing coloured blocks/planes to suggest depth and perspective to his landscape studies, viewed as post-Impressionism. He was great friends with Emile Zola, and was influenced by Courbet’s work depicting real people in every-day situations. He had a son who is depicted in several portraits as was his wife – apparently by 1881 his father had cut his allowance as Cezanne failed to tell him they had had a baby.
This was an unusual opportunity to see so many portraits together, rather than the substantial body of work such as still-life studies and landscapes we all recognize. The direct quotes from his letters, read out in the programme, alongside reflections from his relatives and friends, were an ideal way to help see Cezanne for the creative and influential artist he was.