The present picture is closely related to an important series of bather compositions that Cézanne executed between 1876 and 1878 (Rewald, nos. 358-366). Each of these includes at the far left a standing female nude seen from the rear, in a pose nearly identical to that of the present work (fig. 1). Here, Cézanne has excerpted this figure and transformed it into a male bather by cropping the hair, thickening the torso, and accentuating the musculature of the arms and legs. The pictures in this series are all executed with densely packed, diagonal strokes of pigment -- the so-called constructive stroke with which Cézanne was experimenting at this point in his career.
The first owner of the present painting was Julien Tanguy, a Parisian color-grinder whom Cézanne met through Pissarro in 1873 and who is immortalized by van Gogh in his painting Portrait of Père Tanguy which now hangs in the Musée Rodin, Paris (de la Faille, no. F363). By exchanging paint and canvases for completed works, Tanguy was able to assemble a sizable collection of pictures by Cézanne and his colleagues. In the 1880s and early 1890s, Tanguy's small shop on the rue Clauzel was one of the only places in Paris one could see Cézanne's work. Degas, Gauguin, and Signac all purchased paintings by Cézanne there, and younger artists like Denis, Bernard, Bonnard and Vuillard gathered at the rue Clauzel to study Cézanne's compositions. An American critic who visited Tanguy in 1892 left the following recollections:
Le pére Tanguy is a short, thick-set, elderly man, with a grizzled beard and large beaming dark blue eyes. He had a curious way of first looking down at his picture with all the fond love of a mother, and then looking up at you over his glasses, as if begging you to admire his beloved children... (C. Waern, "Some Notes on French Impressionism," Atlantic Monthly, April 1892; quoted in J. Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1961, pp. 556-557).
Around 1892, Tanguy sold the present work to Eugène Boch, a wealthy Belgian painter and member of the avant-garde group Les vingts. Boch was a close friend of Emile Bernard, and at Bernard's urging purchased three paintings by Cézanne from Tanguy. In addition to the present work, these include a six-foot seated portrait of Achille Empéraire (see lot 15, fig. 1) and one of the earliest known depictions of Madame Cézanne (Rewald, no. 217). The dapper Boch is memorialized in a lively portrait by van Gogh that now hangs in the Musée d'Orsay (de la Faille, no. 462).
(fig. 1) Paul Cézanne, Trois baigneuses, 1876-1877.
Petit Palais, Paris (Gift of Henri Matisse) .