R711 – L’Homme à la pipe, 1892-1896 (FWN683)
R712 – L’Homme à la pipe, vers 1896 (FWN504)
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The man on the left of Les Joueurs de cartes (R714-FWN684) is obviously tall and thin, very much as he appears in all three versions and in a preparatory study of his head in profile, pipe in mouth (L’Homme à la pipe, R711-FWN683), and in the portrait that Cézanne did of him full-face. He also seems to have been a serious man, perhaps thoughtful or slightly depressive; or so he appears in the full-face portrait, L’homme à la pipe, R712-FWN504. This painting is a masterly understatement, with most of it painted in colors that range from dull browns to blue-blacks; but against this unattractive ground the skin tones appear luminous—almost as a relief from the torpor of the ground. Most important for me is the simple detail of the pipe and shirt, which is done not in white but in a light blue with touches of light green: a masterly color balance (blue-green against the mass of dull browns) and color use (fresh air introduced into the oppressive atmosphere). There are fine details, such as the single line that extends from the hat brim above the sitter’s right ear down through the tip of the nose, the pipe, and the shoulder, which brings a certain dash to the laconic man. We cannot know if the painting has captured the sitter’s character, but we can feel that it would not have displeased him; it is free of hesitations or contradictions, and no matter how muted, it is fully realized as a portrait in its own right.
Source: Machotka, Cézanne: the Eye and the Mind.