Paul Cézanne painted Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Chair in oil on canvas in 1893. This painting is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
What is depicted in Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Chair?
The picture shows Hortense Fiquet Cézanne in an interior in a sitting position.
Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Chair – Analysis
Cézanne 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, Cézanne almost always portrayed people from his immediate environment. These were usually family members or friends.
The modernity of Cézanne’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 Cézanne’s painting is formed by complementary relationships of integrated color fields as well as on the principle of three dominant forms in nature. Cézanne 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.
In the painting Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Chair, Cézanne harmoniously builds dynamics by juxtaposing the complementary qualities of colors. The central field of the composition is occupied by the figure of the painter’s wife, which marks the culmination of warm tones. Leaning against the back of a yellow Hortense Cézanne armchair, she gazed into the distance. The wall behind the armchair is divided into two parts by a horizontal field. The first, or upper field, indicates a portrait in the narrower sense, or Hortense at the bust level, while the lower field reveals a portrait in a broader sense. The wall forms a cold segment of the composition with predominantly whitish and light blue tones. A special dynamic is given to the composition by the fact that the position of Hortense is not completely frontal, but slightly moved to the side. That slight turn in space continues with Hortense’s clearly presented sideward look. A dramatic difference in the atmosphere is brought about by a portrait from the same series, which Hortense presents this time with a gaze directed directly at the viewer.
It is important to point out that Cézanne most often did not do portraits for commercial reasons. That is why his portrait painting is interpreted as a great character study. Cézanne excluded the one-time impulse of immediate experience from the construction of scenes. The mimetic approach was never close to Cézanne’s understanding of painting. This is evident both in numerous self-portraits and in the series of portraits of Hortense Fiquet, which were also created in series throughout his entire career. It is important to point out that it is difficult to single out two completely related portraits of Hortense Fiquet out of almost thirty of them if we take the physical characteristics as the main criterion. Cézanne based the structuring of the painting on the isolation of the authentic features of the motif and their coloristic coexistence.
Susan Sidlauskas writes about the phenomenon of changeableness in the painter’s experience of the overall environment. in the article Emotion, Color, Cézanne (The Portraits of Hortense) – Cézanne did not objectify his human subjects; rather he injected a capacity for near-human empathy and response into everything he painted, including the sugar bowls, skulls and artificial fruits which he collected in his studio. In his portraits of his wife, he preserved her changeableness, and the porousness of each remembered interaction. To think of the images of Fiquet Cézanne as “inexpressive,” as is almost always said about them, is to misunderstand them. If we look at her representations a bit differently, we can see that in them are concentrated everything Cézanne felt about nature, which he defined once as “man, woman, still life.”17 The paintings Cézanne produced of his wife—which are exceeded in number only by those he painted of himself—forsake resemblance, jettison conventional notions of identity, and test the very boundaries of how the self, along with the non-self who confronts and resists it, is defined, contained, and represented. Fiquet Cézanne’s lack of fixedness is, in part, the subject of the series; an expression of the instability inherent in any human contact, of the unpredictability of being mirrored, resisted, complemented, and challenged, all at once, by another individual.
From the same series is a portrait of the almost identical composition Madame Cézanne In A Yellow Armchair from 1888-1890. This portrait is in the Collection of the Beyeler Foundation in Riehen.