Paul Cézanne
Click Image to Enlarge
Click Image to Enlarge
Image courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Image courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Studies of a Child's Head, a Woman's Head, a Spoon, and a Longcase Clock, ca. 1872-3
Graphite with touches of black crayon on fine-textured white paper
23.8 x 31.4 cm
Bequeathed by Dr. Grete Ring, 1954
WA 1954.70.2
François Hippolyte Lalaisse
Two Horses' Heads

Cézanne’s Studies of a Child’s Head, a Woman’s Head, a Spoon, and a Longcase Clock was never actualized in a final painted work. Rather than plotting out potential formal constructions for a cohesive composition, Cézanne’s Studies consists of disparate elements, sketched onto a single page. This page of studies more closely resembles Cézanne’s sketchbooks than any of his paintings.

During his prolific career as a painter, Cézanne produced more than eighteen sketchbooks, with pages covered in what appears to be an obsessive examination of everything around him: faces, fruit, household objects, and antique sculpture, to name a few. There is neither a clear chronology nor thematic consistency to his sketchbooks. Theodore Reff observes that Cézanne “seems to have used his sketchbooks in an irregular, random manner, at times for brief periods with long intervals between.”[i] The undated pages are filled with haphazardly arranged sketches, revisited by Cézanne as he inserted new drawings into the remaining blank spaces.

In addition to the eighteen sketchbooks, Cézanne drew elsewhere, seemingly wherever he could, as in the case of the Ashmolean Studies. On the verso of Studies is a lithograph of two horses’ heads by the French illustrator, François Hippolyte Lalaisse. According to Jon Whiteley, the Lalaisse print probably belonged to a drawing manual that Cézanne had used in “teaching himself the rudiments of drawing.”[ii]

Though undated by the artist, and possibly worked on several times over a period of many years, Studies can be contextualized to some degree. The two portraits on the left side of the page are of Hortense Fiquet, Cézanne’s wife, recognizable by her centrally parted hair tied in a top knot. Fiquet met Cézanne in 1869. Three years later she gave birth to their son, Paul, who is probably the subject of the two lost-profile sketches of what appear to be a baby on the lower portion of the page. The young age of the baby has been used to date at least those portions of the drawing to 1872-3, since this is close to the time when Paul was born. However, it is difficult to determine when the other sketches were introduced, particularly since some of those figures are not clearly identifiable.[iii]

If there is one unifying theme to this composition, it is formalism. Indeed, this page is a study of round forms, both organic and inorganic, that includes the heads of the figures, their ears, eyes, the crease at the back of the head of Paul, the bun worn by Fiquet, the face of the clock, the knob at the base of the clock, and the top of the enlarged spoon. Furthermore, the composition shows Cézanne’s experimentation with the play of light and shadow on each of the figures drawn. While Cézanne’s paintings do not tend to depict shadows, Studies shows the working out of darkly hatched shadows, around the heads of the figures and in a rather strange distortion relating to the spoon. Unlike in the case of Millet, Cézanne’s sketches did not often directly inform his paintings. Instead they seem to have been studies in which he would practice his drawing technique, explore themes of interest, or work out a pictorial problem. In his extensive processing, Cézanne often depicted what was most available to him, with the members of his family as favorite models in his oeuvre of sketches, such as Studies, and in his paintings.

[i] Theodore Reff, “Introduction,” Paul Cézanne, Two Sketchbooks : Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, ex. cat. (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1989), 9.

[ii] Jon Whiteley, Poussin to Cézanne: French Drawings and Watercolours in the Ashmolean Museum, (Oxford : Ashmolean Museum, 2002), 315.

[iii] The remaining three images hardly resemble Fiquet or Paul fils, though scholars usually identify them all as Paul fils, though they do not tend to explain the basis for this identification. See Hanson, Line and Colour, 158; Whiteley, Poussin to Cézanne, 315; Adrien Chappuis, The Drawings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonne, volume 1 (Greenwich, CT : New York Graphic Society, 1973), 188;  Wayne Andersen, Cézanne’s Portrait Drawings (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1970), 72. Only Andersen suggests that the faint head at the top could “perhaps” be Paul fils, rather than making a declarative statement that it is Paul fils. I would argue that they all appear to be adult women, perhaps models or from other artworks Cézanne studied, probably unrelated to Fiquet or Paul fils, though the faint figure at the top could possibly be Fiquet.

Adina Loeb

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