Thursday, December 25, 2014


Yesterday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art I took in the current exhibition of Cézanne's portraits of his companion, later his wife, Hortense Fiquet. The sitter seems lost in a world all her own, while the artist's approach is cool and detached. Contrast the large offering of Picasso's portraits of his own wife in his later years, Jacqueline Roque, now at Pace. The big canvases are filled with fiery colors and the quasiexpressionistic distortions of the artist's later years. Why this difference? Is it the glacial, methodical Frenchman, a true disciple of Descartes, vs. the Spaniard's "fandango" exuberance?

I don't think so. I learned from E. H. Gombrich to be wary of the temptation of the physiognomic fallacy, to try to psychoanalyze portraits for a true index of feelings. The art of portraiture has its own conventions, which offset any emotional weighting we may detect in them.

The relationship of Cézanne and his wife was stable, so both must have been satisfied with it. And so was Picasso's relationship with Jacqueline, who proved a highly competent manager of his household and not just a sex object.…/listings/…/madame-cezanne