Working diligently to find his artistic voice in the first decade of his career, Cézanne often prevailed upon friends and relatives to act as models in his studio on the family estate in Aix-en-Provence. The poet and art historian Antony Valabrègue, who grew up with Cézanne in Aix, sat for the young artist several times in the 1860s.
Cézanne chose a fairly conventional format for this portrait—a three-quarter-length figure with face turned slightly to the side, and plain backdrop—but he executed it in a wholly radical manner. He eschewed the precise delineation of form, evidenced especially along the edges of the coat, where black pigment spills onto the gray of the background. Even more strikingly, he used a palette knife—a blunt instrument normally used to mix paint—to apply thick layers of pigment, achieving a ferocious, even crude effect seen, most obviously, in Valabrègue’s face. Even where the artist used a brush to form the tightly clenched fists, for instance, the handling is raw and turbulent.
As Cézanne eagerly anticipated, the work was rejected by the Salon of 1866. Thus he proudly joined the ranks of other insurgent artists who failed to get into the Salon that year, including Edouard Manet and Auguste Renoir.
lower right: P.Cezanne
(Ambroise Vollard [1867-1939], Paris); sold 26 March 1901 to Breysse; resold 1904 to Vollard; sold 1911 through (Bernheim-Jeune) to Auguste Pellerin [1852-1929], Paris; by inheritance to his son, Jean-Victor Pellerin, Paris, until at least 1946. private collection, Zürich. (Wildenstein & Co., London, New York, and Paris), at least in 1947; sold 1966 to Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia; gift 1970 to NGA.
- 22nd Exhibition of the Mánes Union of Fine Arts: French Impressionists [Katalog triadvacáté výstavy Spolku Výtvarných Umĕlců Mánes: Francouzšti Impressionisté], Mánes Pavilion, Prague, 1907, no. 53.
- [Group exhibition], Paul Cassierer, Berliln, 1909, possibly no. 9.
- Exhibition of the Works of Modern French Artists, Public Art Galleries, Brighton, England, 1910, no. 184.
- Salon d'Automne, Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 1912, no. 51.
- Honderd Jaar Fransche Kunst, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1938, no. 3.
- [Exhibition], Musée de Lyon, 1939, no. 7.
- Homage to Paul Cézanne. Wildenstein & Co., London, 1969, no. 6.
- Loan Exhibition of Cezanne for the Benefit of the New York Infirmary, Wildenstein, New York, 1947, no. 2, repro.
- Cézanne: Paintings, Watercolors & Drawings, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1952, no. 7.
- Chefs-d'oeuvre des collections Suisses de Manet à Picasso, Palais de Beaulieu, Lausanne, 1964, no. 85, repro.
- Paul Cézanne, Museo Español de Arte Contemporaneo, Madrid, 1984, no. 3, repro.
- Gifts to the Nation: Selected Acquisitions from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1986, unnumbered checklist.
- Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, State Hermitage Museum, Leningrad; State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 1986, no. 34, repro.
- Cézanne: The Early Years, Royal Academy of Arts, London; Musée d'Orsay, Paris; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1988-1989, no. 16, repro.
- Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from American Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1999-2000, no. 13, repro.
- Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The National Art Center, Tokyo; Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, 2011, no. 9, repro.
- Cézanne Portraits, Musée D'Orsay, Paris; National Portrait Gallery, London; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2017-2018, no. 3.1, repro.
- Venturi, Lionello. Cezanne, son art, son oeuvre. 2 vols. Paris, 1936.
- Orienti 1970, no.65.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 62, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 503, no. 745, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 82, repro.
- Rewald, John. The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: a catalogue raisonné. 2 vols. New York, 1996:no. 94, repro.