A Conversation on Cézanne’s The Conversation

From now until June 6, the Dixon is fortunate to be the temporary home of The Conversation, one of the many masterpieces by French artist and Post-Impressionist painter, Paul Cézanne. As with many of the works on view in the Dixon’s residence, there is more to this extraordinary piece than meets the eye…there is a story behind the canvas.

Here are five facts about Paul Cézanne’s The Conversation.

1. When Paul Cézanne executed The Conversation in about 1872 or 1873, he was thirty-three years old and still finding his way as a painter and an artist.  After studying and abandoning the law and leaving a job in his father’s Aix-en-Provence bank, Cézanne persuaded his family to support his move north to Paris in 1862.  Once there, he struggled to find acceptance.  Cézanne was denied admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the most prestigious art school in France, and his submissions to the annual Salon exhibition in Paris were repeatedly refused.  Most found his artistic experiments of the 1860s crudely executed and thematically dark or even violent.  A work the artist sent to an exhibition in Marseilles in 1867 had to be removed before it was torn off the wall by an outraged public.  But Cézanne also had important supporters as well, including his childhood friend, the critic and future novelist Emile Zola.

2. At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Cézanne and his lover and model Hortense Fiquet fled to L’Estaque in the South of France, not far from his family’s home in Aix.  Cézanne kept her presence a secret, however, for fear of losing the regular stipend he received from his father.  By 1872, the year he started The Conversation, Cézanne was again back in the North with Hortense and their infant son, Paul, taking up residence in a hotel across the River Seine from the village of Pontoise.  The painter Camille Pissarro lived in Pontoise with his large family, and the fatherly figure asserted a powerful influence over Cézanne.  They worked side-by-side almost daily for much of 1872.
3. In The Conversation, an elongated male figure in stylish coat and trousers looms over a seated woman who twists in her chair to look up at him.  They are at once deliberately posed—almost as if to be photographed—yet informal in their gestures and movements; a brown and white dog crouches at the woman’s feet and looks on with interest.  The theme of a conversing couple alongside a river may speak to Cézanne’s new life with Hortense in Pontoise (or Auvers, where they moved in 1873).  But the brighter and more colorful palette, the new refinement of his brushwork, and the composition defined by strong diagonals are no doubt indebted to Pissarro’s example.

4. The Conversation was unquestionably part of Cézanne’s early search for his own unique artistic vision, a long gestation period when the themes and visual strategies that characterize his mature work still eluded him.

5. The year after The Conversation was completed, Cézanne took part in the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris, submitting three canvases to that landmark event.  Two were decidedly from his early experimental phase, but the third, a view of the village of Auvers offered perhaps the first glimpse of his future.  The distortion of his figures eventually disappeared, indeed, figure painting, while never vanishing entirely, eventually became subordinate to his exploration of still life and especially landscape subjects.  Once Cézanne, Hortense, and Paul returned to Aix more or less permanently a decade later in 1883, the artist’s palette shifted to the earthy reds of the southern rocks and fields, the brilliant blues of its sky, and the deep mossy greens of the trees.  Cézanne’s mature palette is evident in the Dixon’s own painting by the artist, Rocks and Trees near Chateau Noir from the brilliant final phase of his career.

See it to believe it - The Conversation by Paul Cézanne is on view now at the Dixon until June 6.

Image: Paul Cezanne, French, 1839-1906, La Conversation, ca. 1872 – 1873 Oil on canvas, On loan from the Diane B. Wilsey Collection.

Posted by Chantal Drake at 12:28 PM


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