Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)
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Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)

La Conversation

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)
La Conversation
oil on canvas
17¾ x 21 in. (44.5 x 53.2 cm.)
Painted in 1872-1873
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris.
Auguste Pellerin, Paris.
Jean-Victor Pellerin, Paris, by decent from the above in 1929.
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York.
Edgar William & Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, New York; their sale, Parke Bernet, New York, 12 May 1980, lot 14.
Acquired by the present owner circa 2000.
A. Dreyfus, Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, Leipzig, June 1913, p. 198 (illustrated; titled 'Im Park').
G. Rivière, Le Mâitre Paul Cézanne, Paris, 1923, p. 202.
L. Venturi, Cézanne, Son art - son oeuvre, vol. 1, Paris, 1936, no. 231, p. 116 (illustrated, vol. II, no. 231, pl. 63).
M. Raynal, Cézanne, Paris, 1936, p. 38, pl. XI.
S. Cheney, The Story of Modern Art, New York, 1947, p. 212 (illustrated).
G. Jedlicka, Cézanne, Bern, 1948, fig. 13 (illustrated).
K. Badt, Die Kunst Cézannes, Munich, 1956, p. 71 (illustrated pl. 20).
A. Chappuis, Les Dessins de P. Cézanne au Cabinet des Estampes du Musée de Beaux-Arts de Bâle, Olten & Lausanne, 1962, no. 135, p. 119 (illustrated fig. 51).
L. Brion-Guérry, Cézanne et l’Expression de l’Espace, Paris, 1966, p. 73.
J. Lindsay, Cézanne: His Life and Art, Greenwich, CT, 1969 (illustrated fig. 36).
S. Geist, Art International, 20 November 1975, p. 9 (illustrated).
M. Lewis, Cézanne’s Early Imagery, Berkeley, 1989, pp. XIII & 91 (illustrated p. 90, fig. 39).
J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New York & London, 1996, pp. 168-169, no. 235 (illustrated vol. II, no. 235, p. 77).
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art, Kobe, Cézanne, September-December 1986, no. 7, p. 33 (illustrated p. 32); this exhibition travelled to Kobe, The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art and Nagoya, The Aichi Prefectural Art Gallery.
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Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas
Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas

Lot Essay

Paul Cézanne painted La conversation around 1872-73, and this picture therefore relates to a series of other scenes from around that date, many of which seem to tap into fictive narratives. La conversation was formerly in the collection of one of the greatest collectors of Cézanne's works, the margarine magnate Auguste Pellerin, who assembled a string of masterpieces by him, as well as by other artists including Edouard Manet, Vincent van Gogh and Henri Matisse, who painted his portrait. La conversation was later owned by the American collectors Colonel Edgar and Bernice Garbisch. A soldier and professional football player elected to the National Football Hall of Fame before becoming a successful businessman, Garbisch married Bernice, the daughter of Walter P. Chrysler; she appears to have inherited her father's eye for objects as well, and during her life managed to acquire a number of works by artists in a variety of fields, many of which she and Garbisch bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. It is a tribute to the importance and to the charm of La conversation that it was included in both these historic collections.

La conversation dates from the period when Cézanne was beginning to reveal the increasing influence of the Impressionism being championed by a number of his friends and fellow artists, especially his great mentor Camille Pissarro. In this work, Cézanne has moved away from the dark, bulky brushwork of his earlier pictures, which often had violent narratives that matched their moods. Instead, La conversation shows a debonair man leaning and talking to a seated woman in a garden or park, with a body of water, perhaps a river, in the background. La conversation thus can be seen in the light of some of the glimpsing visions of modern life embraced by the Impressionists, alongside whom Cézanne would exhibit in their first group show in 1874.

In La conversation, there are trees, a dog and even an urn, allowing Cézanne to underscore the idyll of this scene, a marked contrast to Cézanne's own life, which had been complicated by his affair with the younger model, Hortense Fiquet. At the beginning of 1872, Hortense gave birth to their son, also called Paul, further adding to the artist's problems. He tried to keep her existence a secret from his father so that he would continue to receive the allowance that helped him to pursue his artistic career. In La conversation, then, Cézanne is perhaps showing a sliver of a life lived vicariously, a vision of ease and sophistication at odds with his own experiences at the time. Indeed, the art historian Kurt Badt ranked this among 'that group of extremely personal confessions which the artist confided to paint from time to time throughout his life, despite the fact that his was a reserved nature, apparently interested in painting only for painting's sake. These visions of an imaginary happiness, the very opposite of Cézanne's own real life, were sketched in various states of mind, at one time with brutal sensitivity; at another, by contrast, with chaste tenderness, but always with a completely transparent symbolism' (Badt, quoted in J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, London, 1996, p. 168).

La conversation thus echoes a group of other perhaps imaginary visions that Cézanne created during this period, for instance the Pastorale he painted a few years earlier which is now in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. That work is a more classicised scene with nudes as well as clothed men, echoing Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe and prefiguring his own Baigneuses. Meanwhile, La conversation shows a scene that hints more overtly at modern life, perhaps reflecting Pissarro's guidance during this time. In 1872, Cézanne had, like Pissarro, been living in Pontoise, before moving to Auvers, and used to embark upon painting campaigns with the older artist, learning from him. Here, Cézanne has even used his dappled brushwork to capture the sense of light filtering through the foliage in a manner that adds to its highly atmospheric quality and also seems to pay tribute to Impressionist techniques. However, Cézanne never became a slavish follower of Pissarro, or of the Impressionism that he championed, instead forging his own unique path. Aspects of this can already be seen in La conversation, where the brushwork is almost expressionistic. Dabs of paint have been used to give a shimmering effect that moves beyond the Impressionist, creating a sense of vibrating movement. In this way, it perhaps relates to Cézanne's Une moderne Olympia, another tribute to Manet. In that work, the churning, frenetic brushwork adds to the sense of movement and revelation of the scene, lending it the air of a mystical vision; those effects are echoed through the darker, more realistic palette of La conversation.

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