Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) is among the most prolific artists of all time, but what is known about his personal life is shrouded within his works. The “Madame Cézanne” Exhibit, now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, delves into the private life of Cézanne, looking closely at his relationship with his model, muse, and wife, Hortense Fiquet (1850-1922).
Other than the stunning works that comprise the exhibit, the most fascinating attribute of the show is the story that lies behind the rapport of Cézanne and Fiquet and presents itself through the many portraits of Fiquet composed by Cézanne over the course of two decades. This is the first-ever exhibition of Hortense Fiquet portraits, created in oil, graphite, and watercolor media, and includes 24 of the 29 known portraits.
Their first meeting was in 1869 when Fiquet was 19 years old; three years later, their son, Paul, was born. Cézanne took great care to conceal the existence of his mistress and their son, adding a level of upset to their relationship. It wasn’t until 1886 that Cézanne and the mother of his child were married in order to secure his son’s inheritance.
Hortense, despite being Cézanne’s muse for 29 carefully crafted oil paintings, as well as being his source of inspiration, support, and care, was never well-received by his friends or family. In fact, the two often spent long periods in separation due to these complications, as well as those concerning monetary difficulties.
These conditions, however, did not stop Cézanne from producing an immense amount of work containing Hortense and Paul as the subjects, despite their tumultuous circumstances. Cézanne’s approach to his artwork was calculated, as he felt he could explore a variety of techniques and methods by working in familiarity.
“Madame Cézanne” shows the progression of Paul Cézanne’s methodology in respect to oil painting. Though many of the pieces are similar in their composition and color palette, no two portraits of Fiquet are the same; each conveys a different aspect of the relationships Cézanne creates between the model and the artist as well as the colors and space.
Cézanne utilizes sensations of color that add structure to his images and determine the overall palette of each piece, making his works perceptive of form in terms of color relationships. A part of Cézanne’s technique includes the calculated incorporation of miniscule patches of colors in his pieces in an attempt to unify the image in terms of hues.
Many critics have stated that Hortense’s lack of facial expression, looking listless and unenthused, only adds to the negative reputation she gained in her lifetime as Cézanne’s mistress. Defenders argue that Fiquet instead is an icon of constancy and patience, taking into account the countless hours she posed for her artist husband.
This behavior illustrates her unconditional devotion to him regardless of the relentless hostile treatment she received. The lack of the minute details of Cézanne and Fiquet’s relationship only adds to its complexity. Mystery is indefinitely left in their legacy and will continue to provide a source of wonder forever more.
The “Madame Cézanne” Exhibit includes an impressive compilation of works from all over the world, including Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the private collection on loan to Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Museum Berggruen in Berlin; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Japan’s Yokohama Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and canvases from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. The exhibit will be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, New York, until March 15, 2015.