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Paul Cezanne Paintings: The Red Dress Series

Posted by Susan Benford


The four Paul Cezanne paintings of his wife wearing a red, shawl-collared dress provide unusual insight into his painterly process: although Madame Cezanne is immediately recognizable by her mask-like face, almond-shaped eyes and slicked-back hair, none of the Red Dress paintings is intended as a portrait to capture her likeness.

Paul Cezanne.  Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair, ca. 1888-1890.  Oil on canvas, 31 7/8" by 25 5/8".  Fondation Beyeler, Basel.

Although art historians don't unanimously agree on the order in which Cezanne created the Red Dress paintings, most concur that the largest - the Met's version - was his final iteration.  

These works can be divided into two pairs according to how Hortense Fiquet is seated: in the Art Institute of Chicago and the Basel works, she is turned to the right; in the Met and Sao Paulo versions, she is seated more frontally.

Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair - Basel and Chicago versions

The Basel version (above, left) appears to be the most quickly painted of these four Paul Cezanne paintings. The Madame-Cezanne-Red-Dress-Chicagounderpainting and brush underdrawing are immediately visible, and white ground shows in her hands, dress, and face as well as in the yellow chair. 

Yet Dita Amory, the curator of the Madame Cezanne exhibition, notes that details were added after the initial paint had cured: these include the dark band atop the wainscot, which is sustantially wider on the left of the painting.

Paul Cezanne. Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair, ca. 1888-90.  Oil on canvas, 31 7/8" by 25 5/8".  Art Institute of Chicago.

In the Chicago work (right), Madame Cezanne is no longer gazing directly at the viewer, and isn't sitting as convincingly on the chair; she almost seems to be standing.  Her head, face and body are flatter and more stylized, making this version less natural than the Basel work.

Again, the wainscoting is heavier on the left than the right, as if to counterbalance the heft of Hortense's figure.

Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress - Sao Paolo version

The Sao Paolo version is a sketchy, candid portrait that lacks the yellow armchair and wainscot of the three other versions. Here, the sculptural aspects of Hortense Fiquet's dress are more imposing - and seemingly of more interest to Cezanne - than her face and head.  

Madame_Cezanne_red_Dress_Sao_pauloAs with the other subjects Cezanne painted repeatedly, Madame Cezanne serves as a springboard for exploration and experimentation with color and tone - these are not portraits as the art world had known them. 

Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress, ca. 1888-90.  Oil on canvas, 35" by 27 1/2".  Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo Assis Chateaubriand.

Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress - Met version

The largest and most spatially complex of the Red Dress paintings - and one of the most famous paintings by Cezanne - is the Met's monumental Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress.

It would be hard to view Cezanne's other three Red Dress paintings as anything but grand studies for this masterpiece.

Cezanne introduces here an elaborate background with ornate draperies, fireplace tongs, and a hint of a mirrored mantelpiece.

Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress roils with instability and motion, and is rife with contrasts:

  • areas of underpainting in her dress are juxtaposed with fine details of the floral curtain;

  • the right side of her face is calm and assured, while the shadowed left side is anxious and even unsettled, as her arched eyebrow suggests; and

  • the angles of the wainscot band, the mirror, and the yellow armchair was impossible to reconcile.


Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress, ca. 1888-90. Oil on canvas, 45 7/8" by 35 1/4". Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This is the first time these Paul Cezanne paintings have been together since they were in his studio, and it's pure wonder to see this reunion. Do you agree with the opinion that the Met version is the final and most compelling portrait? Do tell.

Explore more Madame Cezanne paintings.  Look at 20 Cezanne paintings that have revolutionized art history. 

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Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Departure; Self-Portrait in Tuxedo; Sinking of Titanic

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Botticelli Primavera

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

CaravaggioConversion of St. Paul

Caravaggio, Young, Sick Bacchus and Basket of Fruit

Caravaggio, Cardsharps and Fortune Teller

Caravaggio, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Caravaggio, Taking of Christ (Kiss of Judas)

Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese

Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Madame Cezanne Paintings

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings 

Cezanne, Red Dress Paintings

Copley, Paul Revere

David, Death of Marat 

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de Kooning,Excavation and Painting, 1948 

de KooningWoman I

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People  

Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson 

Durer, The Four Apostles

El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

El Greco, View of Toledo

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman

Frankenthaler, Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting 

Ghent Altarpiece.  

Ghent Altarpiece via zoom

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Goya, Duchess of Alba; Saturn Devouring his Son; Two Old Men; Half-Submerged Dog; Black Paintings

Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard

Hals, The Laughing Cavalier

Hals, Regents of St. Elizabeth's Hospital

Hopper, Nighthawks

Ingres, Grande Odalisque and Portrait of Madame Moissetier

Isenheim Altarpiece

Kahlo, Renowned Frida Kahlo Paintings.  

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting and David Garrick.  

Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Leonardo, Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery, London 

Leonardo, La Bella Principessa 

Leonardo, New Mona Lisa

Leonardo, Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta 

Leonardo, Savior of the World(Salvator Mundi) 

Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Leyster, Famous Female Painters 

ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergere

Manet, Luncheon in the Studio

Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

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Matisse, The Red Studio

Matisse, The Yellow Dress

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O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Picasso, Las Meninas

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

Raphael, Sistine Madonna

Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer 

Rembrandt, Night Watch

Rembrandt paintings at Frick Show

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Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

Rubens, Venus and Adonis

Sanchez Cotan, Spanish Still-life

Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

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Tanner, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor

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Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Man with a Glove

Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, Allegory of Prudence, Jacopa Strada, St. Jerome, Slaying of Marysas

Titian, Rape of Europa

Turner, J. M. W, The Fighting Temeraire

Uccello, Battle of San Romano

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van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

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van Gogh, Starry Night

Velazquez, Juan de Pareja

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Vermeer, Saint Praxedis

Vermeer, The Kitchen Maid

Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting

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Warhol, Marilyn Diptych and Gold Marilyn 

Warhol, Mao 

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Famous Paintings by Art Museums - ebooks

Learn about famous paintings to see in these art museums:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY). One of those intimate, small art museums with a stellar collectionFamous Paintings at Albright-Knox. 

Art Institute of Chicago: Plan to see these famous paintings at the Art Institute -- and download an ebook about them.

Louvre Museum, (Paris): one of the largest art museums in the world! Know which Louvre paintings not to miss in this sortable ebook. 

Mauritshuis Museum: explore works by renowned Dutch painters

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): download the ebook, Famous-Paintings-Metropolitan-Museum, to learn its must-see masterpieces.

National Gallery (London): with 2300 famous paintings alone in its European painting section, discover highlights to see!  Art Paintings to See at the National Gallery.

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While we long for the time when artists are artists and genderless, that time isn't yet here.

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Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of a Noblewoman.

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