Paul CÉZANNE | The apotheosis of Delacroix [Apothéose de Delacroix]

Paul CÉZANNE
France 1839 – 1906

The apotheosis of Delacroix
[Apothéose de Delacroix]
1890-94
oil on canvas
canvas 27.0 (h) x 35.0 (w) cm
Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence, on long-term loan to the from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris , Accepted in lieu of tax 1982
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Cézanne had a lifelong obsession with the great nineteenth-century French artist Eugène Delacroix. From early in his career he made copies after this leading figure of French Romanticism, a dominating figure to later generations of French artists. Towards the end of his life he reflected on the importance of Delacroix as a colourist, and on his work as being a postscript to the Venetian artists: ‘[H]e’s one of the giants. He has no need to blush if that’s what we call him, even in the same breath as Tintoretto and Rubens … His palette is still the most beautiful in France.’1 In comparison, Cézanne had little time for the ‘bloodless’ Neo-Classical artists. Delacroix, in contrast, painted ‘by iridescence’.

The dating of this oil is problematic. As early as the 1860s, Cézanne had drawn sketches whose figures relate to this canvas.2 Around 1878–80 he created a watercolour which was later to form the basis of The apotheosis of Delacroix.3 This expanded version of the watercolour then formed the basis of this oil version of The apotheosis—a painting which has been variously dated.4 The most likely date for the oil is between 1890 and 1894, on the grounds that it has been executed in a mature style. Furthermore, in 1894 Cézanne was photographed by Eugène Durieu, shown holding a brush in his studio and standing next to the incomplete The apotheosis.

In this painting, Cézanne depicts Delacroix borne heavenward by angels, one of whom carries the artist’s palette and brush. This, like the previous watercolour, was based on Delacroix’s Lamentation 1843–44. Cézanne was an avid fan and copyist of the Romantic artist’s work and this inclusion is appropriate for such a homage.5 For his Apotheosis, Cézanne has also included a series of the artist’s own contemporaries—all Delacroix enthusiasts—who are set in a Provençal landscape of brilliant light and straggly foliage, with many of the figures wearing Barbizon hats to fend off the sun. At the far right Pissarro is at his easel, and next to him Monet under an umbrella. The artist himself accompanies his pet dog Black in the forefront of the composition. Cézanne gestures skyward towards his hero. Two figures to the left, kneel and pray. One in a frock-coat at the far left is Cézanne’s patron and friend Victor Chocquet, another ardent admirer of Delacroix, whose premature death in 1891 may have prompted this painting.6

Despite his nearly three-decade long ambition to pay homage to Delacroix, Cézanne failed in his ambition to create his work of devotion to the artist that so inspired him, and died before realising this lifetime’s dream.7

Jane Kinsman

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009

  1. Joachim Gasquets Cézanne: a memoir with conversations, London: Thames and Hudson 1991, p. 197. As noted by both John Rewald, in the preface, and Richard Schiff, in the introduction to this translation by Christopher Pemberton, Gasquet took a fair amount of poetic licence in his reconstructions of his conversations with Cézanne. Richard Schiff, ‘Introduction’, in Michael Doran (ed.), Conversations with Cézanne , Berkeley: University of California Press 2001, pp. xix–xxxiv.
  2. Adrien Chappuis, The drawings of Paul Cézanne: a catalogue raisonné, vol. 1, London: Thames and Hudson 1973, cats 174 and 175, pp. 85–86.
  3. Private collection, London.
  4. John Rewald, Paul Cézanne: the watercolours: a catalogue raisonné, London: Thames and Hudson 1983, cat. 68, pp. 102–03, which includes the various dates for the watercolour and the oil.
  5. St-Denis-du-St-Sacrement, Paris. Sara Lichtenstein, ‘Cézanne’s copies and variants after Delacroix’, Apollo, February 1975, pp. 116–27.
  6. Rewald, cat. 68, pp. 102–03; Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer, ‘Cézanne and Delacroix’s posthumous reputation’, The Art Bulletin, March 2005, vol. 87, part 1, pp. 111–29.
  7. He lamented this in a letter to the artist Bernard in 12 May 1904. John Rewald (ed.) and Seymour Hacker (trans.), Paul Cézanne: letters, New York: Hacker Art Books 1984, pp. 296–97.