R094 – Portrait d’Antony Valabrègue, printemps 1866 (FWN399)
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The youthful narcissism of the self-portraits will not last into the next decade; the portraits will be objectively observed and their mood less apparent. His portraits of others will invariably be serious in expression and often utterly original in execution. We must include among them an exceptional portrait that was submitted to the autumn Salon of 1866, on an occasion when Cézanne was sure he would provoke the jury; this is the Portrait d’Antony Valabrègue, painted the summer before. Fortuné Marion had written to a friend that Cézanne hoped to be rejected and that his friends were preparing an ovation in his honor when the rejection came through. The question is whether Cézanne, knowing this, painted this portrait in a way that would offend. This seems implausible to me: rejection can be courted more simply and successfully either with less effort or with a more blatant offense.
If the thick palette-knife strokes were provocative—and they seemed to provoke everyone on the jury but fellow painter Daubigny—the composition and the color, and the very gravity of the pose, might just as plausibly have invited acceptance. Most expressive to me is the slight pull to the upper left of the forehead, as in the earlier self-portrait, which corresponds to the tension felt between the two hands. That the forehead is distorted, and that it charges the painting with tension, is demonstrated by the sitter’s photograph, which shows his face to be comfortably symmetrical.
 Marion to Heinrich Morstatt, March 1866; see Rewald, PPC, vol. 1, p. 93. Rewald says not that Cézanne painted the portrait so as to be rejected, only that Cézanne was sure he would be.
Source: Machotka, Cézanne: the Eye and the Mind.
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