National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Gardener Vallier Paul Cézanne (artist)
French, 1839 - 1906
The Gardener Vallier, 1906
oil on canvas
overall: 107.4 x 74.5 cm (42 5/16 x 29 5/16 in.) framed: 131.4 x 97.8 x 6.9 cm (51 3/4 x 38 1/2 x 2 11/16 in.)
Gift of Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer
On View
From the Tour: Paul Cézanne
Object 6 of 6

This portrait of Cézanne's longtime gardener is one of the paintings he was working on in the days just before his death. It occupied him for quite some time. A look at the canvas from an angle reveals heavy ridges of paint, especially along the contours where one shape meets another. Around Vallier's head extends a thick, dark penumbra—evidence of extensive reworking. Similar evidence of his struggles to attain just the right contour can be seen on many of his late works. Pigments on Vase of Flowers (1900/1903), for example, bubble up on the surface of the canvas.

Dark colors contribute to a sense of airlessness, even gloom. Little characterization comes from the face—more than expression it is the gardener's pose that conveys his simple, solid nature. Cézanne apparently attached great importance to this painting, one of several of Vallier begun several years earlier. He told visitors who saw it still unfinished in his studio, "If I succeed with this fellow, it will mean that the theory was correct." As late as 1906, the year he died, associates said Cézanne was still planning to "write out his ideas on painting." But he did not. We have only letters and comments recalled by others. Out of context, many seem contradictory, and others are colored by the ideas of those reporting them.

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