Portrait of a Woman

Like his friends of the avant-garde, both older and younger, Gauguin admired Cézanne. At different times Pissarro had been mentor to them both, and through him they had met in the summer of 1881. It is not surprising that the two men, both proud, suspicious natures, did not get along personally. But even earlier, Gauguin had bought several of Cézanne's canvases, and when hard times forced him to sell his collection, he refused to part with the still life shown in the background of the painting. "I cling to it as dearly as to my life," he wrote to Schuffenecker, who had offered to buy it in order to help him out, "and short of absolute necessity would rather part with my last shirt." Their art moved in different directions, but both began as Impressionists, and Gauguin was well placed to respect the insistence of the Aixois upon being himself.

In this canvas the kinship with Cézanne is strongly felt. It is evident in the diagonal placing of the sitter, with the extended arms (one longer than the other) enclosing the space between them; in the expressionless face; and in the relation of the figure to the still life behind it. There is (for Gauguin) an unaccustomed bulk and weight to the body, given by a modeling in colored patches that is seen most clearly in the hand and the head. The rhythm is the angular rhythm of Cézanne, the contours broken into by darker areas in his characteristic fashion, unlike the undulating, smoothly outlined forms Gauguin more usually employs. Even the richer, warmer color harmonies are exceptional. All this bespeaks the influence of the southern master's vision. Cézanne did not like Gauguin's art; he decried his lack of modeling and gradation, said he was not a painter, but a fabricator of "Chinese images," i.e., of flat and weightless silhouettes. But if here Gauguin has, for once made direct use of that petite sensation of which Cézanne was so jealous, the master of Aix might well forgive him, for in his own fashion he has truly penetrated and transcribed the solidity and seriousness which were the older artist's aim.

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