Paul Cézanne painted Lady in Blue, c. 1900, in oil on canvas technique. This painting is part of the collection of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
What is depicted in Lady in Blue?
The painting Lady in Blue represents an unidentified female middle-aged person in an elegant blue dress. The woman is represented in a sitting position in the interior.
Lady in Blue – Analysis
Cezanne was committed to the long process of working on the painting. That work was based on the principles of unifying what he sees and what he feels and thinks about the model he is painting and the environment that surrounds him. In portraits, he begins to apply the technique he developed in landscape painting – the technique of the so-called constructive brushstrokes. This technique involves arranging patches of paint of similar size in parallel or diagonal directions, treating the figure and face of the portrayed person and the objects in his environment in the same way. During his long career, Cezanne almost always portrayed people from his immediate environment, usually family members or friends.
The modernity of Cezanne’s painting was reflected in his attitude towards sensations in nature, i.e. translating those sensations into elements for building an image. The structure of Cezanne’s painting is formed by complementary relationships of integrated color fields as well as on the principle of three dominant forms in nature. Cezanne believed that all scenes in nature can be represented using the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone.
In a letter to Emile Bernard, dated 15 April 1904, Cézanne writes To treat nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone, everything put in perspective, so that each side of an object, of a plane, leads to a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon give breadth, be it a section of nature or, if you prefer, the spectacle that Pater Omnipotens Oeterne Deus spreads before our eyes. Lines perpendicular to this horizon give depth. Now, we men experience nature more in terms of depth than surface, whence the need to introduce into our vibrations of light, represented by reds and yellows, a sufficient quantity of blue tones, to give a sense of atmosphere.
The painting Lady in Blue was created in the late phase of Cézanne’s career and is often referred to in the literature as one of the most complete portrait compositions of his mature period. At the same time as Lady in Blue, Cézanne is working on another variant of the same portrait called Seated Woman In Blue. Researchers have different opinions about the identity of the woman portrayed. Some argued that it was the painter’s wife Hortense Fiquet Cézanne since it was her that Cézanne most often portrayed. Although the physical characteristics of the portrait could not be decisive considering the specific manner that Cézanne nurtured in portrait painting. In a series of almost 30 portraits of his wife, he managed not to establish continuity in the structure of her face. However, the thesis that the painter’s wife is represented here is most likely incorrect, given that the researchers agree that the woman represented is older than Hortense. There is also a thesis that the painter’s sister Marie Cézanne is represented in these two portraits as well as that the painter’s governess Madame Brémond posed for it. Although it is more likely that it is someone from the painter’s environment rather than a professional model, there is still not enough evidence to confirm one of the options.
In this portrait, Cézanne managed to achieve complex geometric dynamics despite the simple setting in which the figure is presented. The central field of the composition is occupied by a figure behind which there is a wall in predominantly brown tones. In the left corner, drapery is shown, while the right part of the composition is dominated by a table covered with colorful fabric. Triangular forms are noticeable, with which Cézanne creates a gradation that goes from the lower level of the picture and culminates at the level of the face. We trace the first triangular shape in the line of the slightly bent hand resting on the thigh, i.e. the line connecting the hand and the shoulder. The hand resting on the table creates two triangular forms, the first towards the inner side, i.e. the torso, and the second in relation to the surface of the table on which it rests. We recognize the last triangular form in the dark blue element of the upper part of the dress, whose lapels point to the face as sides of an isosceles triangle. The face of the represented woman is the culminating point of the composition, both in terms of geometric structure and color.
Cézanne complemented the simple features of the interior with a complex gradation of warm colors that goes from left to right, from the almost monochrome drapery to the multicolored fabric on the table. The coloristic tension of complementary relations is achieved by the cold tones of the sophisticated blue dress that dominates the composition. The harmonious unity of tones is realized on the face of the portrayed woman, whose strikingly blue eyes stand out on her warm-toned face. An additional harmonizing component is a fact that the line of her slightly bent face is located on the diagonal line of the picture.
At the same time as Lady in Blue, Paul Cézanne worked on Seated Woman In Blue, which is now part of The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.