R945 – La Dame au livre, 1902-1904 (FWN540)

Pavel Machotka

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La Dame au livre
R945 – FWN540

In La Dame au livre Cézanne uses a touch that is self-assured, rhythmical, and visually lucid: whether it sculpts the folds of the skirt, draws the curves of the hanging rug, or follows the volumes of the sleeves, it is never less than clear in its objectives. Cézanne records the quality of light and the direction of its source to emphasize the forceful modeling on the shoulder and the face. In another portrait of this sitter (La Dame en bleu, R944-FWN541), she faces the light and appears flatter, inhabiting a shallower space :

La Dame en bleu
vers 1904
R944 FWN541

In the present painting Cézanne makes her retain her full material coherence; she sits with a book between her hands which, pictorially, gives the plane of her lap a clear recession into space, toward the upper right corner—and this imaginary line cuts across her backward tilt and balances it. The straight chair back, of course, and the carefully detailed rug, keep the figure firmly contained. The light blue strip in the upper right corner (a corner of a painting) draws our gaze forward of her head, as if she herself were looking ahead rather than somnolently upward. The face is modeled splendidly, once again with all the colors of the rest of the painting, including the dull olives of the rug; its reddish tint, and that of the hands, make the skin tones appear luminous. I mention these technical matters in part to establish how classical is the construction of this portrait, in part to allude to the grounds for my intuitive judgment: the painting is an understated masterpiece.

Source: Machotka, Cézanne: the Eye and the Mind.