Madame Cézanne, the first exhibition of paintings, drawings, and watercolors by Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) of his most painted model, Hortense Fiquet (1850–1922), will open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on November 19. The exhibition will trace Cézanne’s lifelong attachment to the woman who was his model, his wife, and the mother of his son, Paul. She profoundly influenced his portrait practice for more than two decades, and yet, she was not well received—by either his family or his friends.
The exhibition is made possible by The Florence Gould Foundation.
It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Madame Cézanne will feature 24 of the 29 known portraits of Hortense Fiquet that Cézanne painted over a period of more than 20 years, including Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory (1891) and Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress (1888–90), both from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. Hortense Fiquet posed for Cézanne more often than anyone but himself. The exhibition will consider their partnership in all its facets and complexities—the portraits of Hortense in oil, watercolor, and graphite providing the only material clues to that partnership. And yet, the paintings can seem unforgiving, with little understanding of Hortense Fiquet’s character. Critics have cited her sour expression and remote, impenetrable demeanor. These unflattering observations have promoted Hortense Fiquet’s undeserved reputation.
Cézanne met Hortense in Paris in 1869 while she was working as a bookbinder. Although the circumstances of their first encounter are unknown, an early portrait from 1872 suggests that she was modeling for Cézanne by the age of 22. Cézanne took great pains to conceal his mistress and their only child, Paul, from his family fearing his authoritative father’s disapproval. The complicated subterfuge led to separate residences, frequent and often desperate appeals for funds, and long periods of living apart, even after their marriage in 1886. Despite this seeming neglect, the portraits attest to the constancy of a relationship that was critical to the artist’s practice and development. Their story is a compelling one, perhaps all the more so for the absence of its particulars.
Highlights of the painted portraits in Madame Cézanne will include Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair (ca. 1877) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Madame Cézanne (ca. 1885) from the private collection on loan to Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Museum Berggruen in Berlin; Portrait of Madame Cézanne (ca. 1885–87) from the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Portrait of Madame Cézanne in a Striped Dress (1883–85) from Japan’s Yokohama Museum of Art; Madame Cézanne in Blue (ca. 1888–90) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the aforementioned canvases from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. Highlights of the works on paper will include three striking watercolors, 14 drawings, and three rare sketchbooks bearing affectionate studies of Hortense and young Paul.
Madame Cézanne is organized by Dita Amory, Acting Associate Curator in Charge and Administrator of The Robert Lehman Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Kathryn Kremnitzer, Research Assistant.