Cezanne Portraits at the NPG


The Thursday immediately after the Christmas break I had to go down to London for a meeting so we took the opportunity to have a short break in the Capital as there was a couple of exhibitions we particularly wanted to see. We were lucky in managing to book a room in the Euston Premier Inn for less than £60 – a remarkable bargain these days.

After my meeting in Southwark had finished late afternoon, I crossed the river and took the bus from near St Paul’s


over to Trafalgar Square to meet my wife in the National Gallery where she’d been spending a few hours. We went back inside for a quick look at some favourite paintings and the small exhibition of paintings by the Finnish artist Gallen-Kallela of Lake Keitele in his native country. No photos allowed but I downloaded this picture from the National Gallery’s website (under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons licence)


Lake Keitele (1905) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

The National Gallery’s website tells us

For the first time in the UK, this exhibition unites all of Gallen-Kallela’s ‘Lake Keitele’ landscapes. They are displayed side by side, showing the gradual shift of the composition, between naturalistic landscape and highly stylised, abstracted image. They also illuminate the various influences, Finnish and foreign, absorbed by this highly distinctive and versatile artist.

The National Gallery closes at 6 so we made our way out onto Trafalgar Square and past St Martins in the Field


round to the National Portrait Gallery which is open late on Thursday evening.

We had a look round taking in some old favourites – the Elizabethan gallery and portraits of some of my “heroes” including William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley and Humphry Davy – and some new discoveries before purchasing tickets for the exhibition of Cezanne portraits.

This is a major exhibition with 50 portraits by Cezanne, which has already been shown in the Gare d’Orsay in Paris and will later move on to National Gallery of Art in Washington.

As usual over here no photos allowed (how different it was in Australia where we could take photos even in paid exhibitions) but there’s a short youtube video showing highlights

The portraits are mainly of his family and friends with some of other people he knew – including workers from around where he lived, one in particular who posed for some well known paintings. There are also a good number of self portraits. Covering the whole of his career, it’s possible to see how Cezanne’s technique changed and evolved. Some early portraits, including one of his uncle Dominique, have been painted with a pallet knife rather than a brush.

One person who appears more than anyone else in the exhibition is Marie-Hortense Fiquet  his wife,  who he met in Paris when he was 30 and she was 19. He painted her about 30 times and a good number of these portraits are included in the exhibition.


Portrait of Madame Cézanne with Loosened Hair, c. 1883 – 1887, Philadelphia Museum of Art (source: Wikipedia)

It’s very interesting to see how his portrayal of her changed over the years. She doesn’t look particularly happy in any of them and the later portraits are far from flattering to say the least. What does it say about their relationship? He married her against the wishes of his family and stuck with her until he died so he surely can’t have hated her and in those days wealthy men could easily discard a wife or lover. It’s well known that he was a miserable so and so, so perhaps that was reflected in his paintings of her or does it just reflect how his art evolved.

If these portrayals are hardly “attractive” in the conventional sense, and Cézanne has been accused of  “cruelty” in his painting of his wife, with whom he had a difficult relationship, he would no doubt have painted her in exactly the same way had the pair been in the first flush of romance, such was his obsession with pure form and shape.   (Mark Hudson writing in the Telegraph)



7 thoughts on “Cezanne Portraits at the NPG

  1. I love this post so much because it brings back memories of my honeymoon 37 years ago and spending time at the National Gallery and taking in a folk concert at St. Martin’s in the Field in the basement and being caught up in an anti-sealing protest in Trafalgar Square (home of Canada House).

    Mme Cezanne must have been a patient woman indeed. I wonder what she thought of the portraits? Did she hope they’d get better and that’s why she kept sitting for them?

    • Thanks Suzanne.
      There are theories about Cezanne. Some say he was just a miserable so and so who couldn’t relate to people and this is reflected in his portraits! Others say he was aiming to go beyond the surface of the person and see them as part of the environment. Who knows? But he certainly didn’t do his missus any favours in the later portraits!!
      Sounds like you had a honeymoon to remember. We went to Paris for ours way back in 1984. Makes it look like I’m a romantic. Not sure that’s the case, though 😉

  2. I have listened to music from St. Martin’s in the Field and never thought about where it was until my daughter-in-law visited there with a friend. Like Lake Woebegone, I thought it sounded like a nice place, just sort of made up. Now that I’ve seen photos, it’s on the list for the next London trip.
    We did ours in Paris as well, just one year after yours.

    • You mean Lake Wobegone is made up!!!
      I’ve seen St Martin’s many a time as it’s right on Trafalgar Square opposite both the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery. But I’ve never been inside or been to a concert. Something I perhaps need to rectify.

      • It took me a while when I first started listening, about 1 year after it started. When I moved to Wisconsin, just below the northwoods, I did hear people speaking exactly like the woman actress did..don’tcha know! She was an operator at the local hospital, took all my power not to start cracking up.

      • I’ve met some people from Minesota when attending International confrences associated with my work. They work for 3Ms. Yaah!

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