Menu Close

4. Cézanne as his own Copyist

The CR Committee have suggested that the Nantucket painting was not painted by Cézanne but by an anonymous copyist who merely wished to study Cézanne’s techniques to try to “understand his methodology.”  This theory naturally prompts the question:  Is there any evidence for early copyists of Cézanne? Even more to the point:  Would there ever have been a copyist of Cézanne who would want to reproduce one of his paintings so precisely that he would trace its composition exactly – even placing tiny white spots on his copy to indicate sailboats in the very same places that Cézanne placed them on his painting?  It is almost beyond imagining.

In 1907, the artist Maurice Denis (1870-1943), an early admirer of Cézanne, stated that ‘the art into which (Cézanne) poured his personality and passion could not be copied or appropriated, since only Cézanne could make a Cézanne”(L’Occident 70 [Sept., 1907], 133).[1]  Then in 1910 an art critic observed that it was “estimated that the current Paris exhibitions contained at least 200 painters trying to pastiche Cézanne, slavishly, tediously.” [2]

The dates 1907-1910 make perfect sense for the arrival of Cézanne-copyists, for in October 1907 (one year after his death), Cézanne, a formerly ignored or ridiculed painter, had begun to be widely revered as a founder of modern art.[3]  This transformation of his reputation occurred because that year the Salon d’Automne in Paris mounted a retrospective of his work, which included fifty-six of his paintings (FWN 119 not among them).  Only at this event, we would assume, were painters of all abilities and aspirations able for the first time to see a range of Cézanne’s works, to allow themselves to be influenced by his methods and his growing fame, and perhaps to start painting in his manner.

The Nantucket painting predates 1907 perhaps by decades. Were there any Cézanne imitators or copyists before the turn of the twentieth century? Doubtful – because Cézanne was very reclusive; few even knew his address; and his celebrity was still a decade or more away. [4]   His only artist friends and acquaintances were already celebrities themselves:  Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas, Gauguin and Guillaumin, and none of them are known to have copied Cézanne.  Who then could have been copying Cézanne?

The answer is easy:  the artist himself!  If we had no examples of Cézanne’s copies of his own work, it might be difficult to make the case, but we have many examples!  Cézanne routinely made duplicate versions of his own works and even those of his artist friends.  Some were traced for exactitude (like our painting), some were less perfectly traced; others were copied freehand.  One of Cézanne’s many eccentricities seems to have been making duplicate versions of his own works to seek some unattainable ideal of perfection in the composition which he had conceived.  Of this characteristic, Caitlin Haskell of the Art Institute of Chicago describes it as follows: [5]

“Making a landscape after a landscape expanded the ways in which Cézanne could create work as an Impressionist, refusing aspects of its site-specific novelty and making it resemble an indoor pursuit. Several scholars have noted that a painting by Cézanne after a painting by Cézanne — made in the same medium — will have a more even facture, as in the two nearly compositionally identical versions of Madame Cézanne wearing a red dress… when Cézanne’s model was by all accounts [not the sitter herself but] the other painting, a source he depended upon perhaps to the point of tracing its contours into the second composition.”

In her joint lecture with Gloria Groom, “Reflections on Cézanne” (available on YouTube), Haskell describes the artist’s peculiar habit as his “desire of painting pictures again, painting pictures after pictures, reworking a picture that he has already done before, trying that again and learning from it….”[6]

Ms. Haskell’s text referring to the duplicate paintings of Mme. Cézanne might just as well apply to our painting and FWN 119, in which the compositions of the two works precisely match but the latter has “the more even facture” (fig. 8b).

How does one make such a perfect copy?  In the 1870’s one would have used a device called the “camera lucida,” an instrument that projected an optical image of the subject being traced onto the surface upon which the artist wished to draw (fig. 8a). The artist sees both subject and the drawing surface simultaneously, which allows him to duplicate the subject on the drawing surface.  The artist could vary the size of the copy by varying the distance of the device to the model.  The camera lucida was patented in 1806 by the English chemist William Hyde Wollaston.

 Fig. 8a. A “Camera Lucida.”–Falco_thesis

Fig. 8 b.  Click on this video to compare the two portaits of Mme. Cézanne:  the first:  1888-90.  81 x 65 cm. Fondation Beyeler, Basel (FWN 490); the second: 1888-90.  80.9 x 64.9 cm.  Art Institute of Chicago (FWN 492). One of these pictures, having the same scale as the other, was traced from the other.

The documents quoted below reveal how labored and time-consuming Cézanne’s process was in starting and finishing a painting like FWN 119.

July 2, 1876:  Letter of Cézanne to Camille Pissarro about L’Estaque:

“I have not been in Aix for the past month.  I have begun two small pictures of the sea for Mr. Chocquet…If the weather gets better, I could possibly finish them both.  As things are at the moment, I have not done anything yet.  But there are compositions which would take three or four months’ work, which could probably be done because the vegetation does not change.  There are olive trees and stone pines, which always keep their leaves…” Quoted in U. Becks-Malorny, Paul Cézanne 1839-1906: Pioneer of Modernism. Köln: 2020, p.39

As is evident from the two paintings discussed here, Cézanne, once he had perfected his composition, seems to have been so wedded to it that he was reluctant to waver from it.

As stated by Emile Bernard in 1904: “This is his method of working: first complete submission to his model; carefully establishing his composition; studying the curves and relations of proportions; then, in deeply meditative sessions, heightening the color sensations and elevating form into a decorative concept and color to its most harmonious register.”  From Bernard’s observations of Cézanne (Feb.-Mar. 1904).  Published in L’Occident, July 1904, 17-30; quoted in Michael Doran, Conversations with Cézanne.  Berkeley: U. of California Press, 2001, 35-36.

“(Cézanne’s) painting progressed very slowly and involved long contemplation. He never placed one stroke of paint without thinking about it carefully. In spite of what appears to be an unevenness in his paintings, they will endure because of their solidity. He knew what he was doing, and he did what he wanted to do. In any case it is necessary to separate his awkward, strange, and at times crudely primitive works from his great ones. His extremely distinctive vision is often hidden beneath the appearances of rough form.” Emile Bernard on Cézanne (1904-06), published in Mercure de France, Oct. 1 and 16, 1907:  quoted in Michael Doran, Conversations with Cézanne.  Berkeley: U. of California Press, 2001, p. 78.

Below is a selection of his own works and others copied by Cézanne.

Fig. 9.  Click to start the video:  Here is Camille Pissarro’s painting, Louvenciennes. 1871.  90 x 116 cm. Below it is Cézanne’s copy of it, made in 1872. 73 x 92 cm. (FWN 63) (Both are in private collections).  Cézanne simply traced his friend’s larger painting, cutting off the borders as he ran out of space.  The tracing was probably made with a camera lucida. The imperfect overlapping of compositions is probably the result either of the copied painting or the device being moved slightly in mid- process.

Fig. 10. The video above contrasts Paul Cézanne’s The Seine at Bercy. 1876-78. 59 x 72 cm. (FWN 104) with his friend Armand Guillaumin’s original version. 1867-68. 56.1 x 72.4 cm, which he carefully copied from the other (Both: Hamburger Kunsthalle).  Cézanne appears to have traced the essential details of Guillaumin’s painting, while inserting other details freehand. Compare the diagonal brushstrokes in the sky with those in the sky and hills in the Nantucket painting (cf. Part 12, figs. 42-43 a-e).

Fig. 11. The video above reveals that Cézanne even made a painting from a published photograph (attr. to Eugène Cuvelier), Forest at Fontainebleau with snow.  Cézanne’s painting:  Melting Snow at Fontainebleau. 73.7 x 100.7 cm. is now in the MoMA (FWN 145). (Click to start). A detail of the lower right in Cézanne’s painting, showing the diagonal brushstrokes, appears in fig. 43 c.

“Cézanne’s imagination was not great, but he had a very refined sense of composition… To my great surprise, he was not opposed to a painter using photography; but if he painted from photographs, he would still have had to interpret this exact reproduction in exactly the same way as he interpreted nature.” Emile Bernard on Cézanne (1904-06), published in Mercure de France, Oct. 1 and 16, 1907:  quoted in Michael Doran, Conversations with Cézanne.  Berkeley: U. of California Press, 2001, p. 69.

“These and similar instances show that, for Cézanne, a picture was a thing in the world and could – like a sitter, a skull, or a mountain – function as a model too, perhaps even more effectively than the original object.”  (C. Haskell, Cézanne [Art Institute of Chicago: 2022], p. 42)

Parallel Versions of Chaumières à Auvers-sur-Oise

Figs. 12 a, b. 1872-73. 72.3 x 59.3 cm.  Pola Museum (FWN 66) 1873. 61 x 50 cm. Fuji Art Museum, Tokyo (FWN 67).

Parallel Versions of Bathers at Rest

Fig. 13 a, b. Ca. 1876-77.  82.2 x 101.2 cm. Barnes Foundation (FWN 926) 1875-76. 38 x 46 cm. Location unknown (FWN 925-TA)


Fig. 13 c. 1875-76. 38 x 45.8 cm. Geneva. (FWN 924)

Parallel Versions of Bather with Raised Arm

Fig. 14 a, b. Left.  1876.  23 x 15 cm. Private Coll. (FWN 911-TA) Right.  1876. 24 x 16 cm. Private Coll. (FWN 912-TA)
Figs. 14 c, d.     Left.  1877-78.  33 x 24 cm. Private Coll. (FWN 913) (Note again the angled, short parallel brushstrokes) and  right 1877-78. 73 x 60 cm. Private Coll. (FWN 914)


Parallel Versions of Female Bathers.

Figs. 15 a, b. 1876-77.  27 x 35 cm. Barnes Fndn.  (FWN 922). 1876-77. 25.4 x 33 cm. Petit Palais (FWN 923)


Figs. 15 c-d. FWN 938. 1877-78. 38 x 46.2 cm. Pola Museum, Kanagawa.
FWN 942. Ca. 1880. 35 x 39.5 cm. Private Coll.


Fig. 15 e, f. 1877-78. 45.5 x 55 cm. Mus. Picasso (FWN 940). 1877-78. 38 x 41 cm. Private Coll. (FWN 941).


Parallel versions of Baigneur debout, vu de dos

Fig. 16 a, b.  Left. 1879-82. 33 x 22 cm. Chicago Art Inst. (FWN 932) Right. 1879-82. 25.5 x 17.2 cm. Princeton U. (FWN 933)


Parallel versions of “Leda”

Figs. 17 a, b.  Left.  Leda and the Swan. ca. 1880. 59.7 x 74.9 cm. Barnes Fndn. (FWN 660). Right. Nude woman (Leda?). ca. 1887. 44 x 62 cm. Von der Heydt Museum (FWN 661)


Parallel versions of “Still Life Before a Commode”

Figs. 18 a, b. Left.  1887-89.  Still Life before a commode.  73 x 92.2 cm. Munich (FWN 807) Right.  1887-89.  Still Life before a commode.  65.5 x 81 cm.  Harvard U. (FWN 808)


Parallel Versions of Still life, Drapery, Pitcher, and Fruit Bow

Fig. 23, a, b. 1893-94.  60 x 73 cm. Whitney Museum of American Art (no FWN #) 1893-94. 69.7 x 73 cm. Private Collection (FWN 854)


Parallel Versions of The Harlequin

Figs. 19 a, b, c.  Left. 1888-90.  92 x 65 cm.  National Gallery, Washington, DC (FWN 671) Center. 1888-90.  91 x 65 cm. Private Coll. (FWN 670) Right. 1888-90.  62.3 x 47.2 cm. Pola Museum of Art, Kanagawa (FWN 669)


Parallel Versions of Man Smoking a Pipe.

Figs. 20 a, b. Left. 1890. 92.5 x 73.5 cm. Kunsthalle, Mannheim (FWN 505) Right. 1890-92. 92.5 x 73.5. Hermitage, St. Petersburg (FWN 506)


Parallel versions of The Card Players.

Figs. 21 a, b. 1892-96. 97 x 130 cm.  Royal Family of Qatar (FWN 685) 1893-96. 60 x 73 cm. Courtauld Institute, London (FWN 686)
Fig. 21 c. 1893-96. 48 x 57 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris (FWN 684)


Parallel Versions of The Card Players (#2)

Fig. 22 a, b.  1890-92.  65 x 81 cm.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art (FWN 680) 1890-92.  134 x 182 cm. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia (FWN 681)


Parallel Versions of Mont Sainte-Victoire

Figs. 24 a, b. 1896-98. 78 x 99 cm. Hermitage (FWN ?) 1896-98. 81 x 99 cm. Hermitage (FWN ?) One of the two pictures was traced from the other.

Fig. 24 c:  Click on video to compare the two paintings.


[1] Gloria Groom, Cézanne [Art Institute of Chicago 2022], p. 31.
[2] Groom, p. 33, note 64.
[3] John Rewald, Cézanne and America: Dealers, Collectors, Artists, and Critics: 1891-1921. Princeton: 1989, p. 112.
[4]“Now (1904) that the paintings of the master (Cézanne) have been disbursed into private collections, it is difficult to speak of the ensemble of his work, what it was before, when he let nothing leave his studio and lived in solitude….” From Emile Bernard’s observations of Cézanne (Feb.-Mar. 1904).  Published in L’Occident, July 1904, 17-30, quoted in Michael Doran, Conversations with Cézanne.  Berkeley: U. of California Press, 2001, pp. 35-36.
[5] See also Caitlin Haskell, Cézanne (Art Institute of Chicago: 2022), p. 41.
[7] Jonathan Harr, The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece.  New York: 2006, pp. 86-87.