Portrait of Gustave Geffroy

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Portrait of Gustave Geffroy
Gustave Geffroy - Paul Cézanne.jpg
Artist Paul Cézanne
Year 1895 (1895)
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 110 cm × 89 cm (43 in × 35 in)
Location Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Portrait of Gustave Geffroy is a c. 1895 painting by the French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne. It portrays Gustave Geffroy, a French novelist and art critic noted as one of the earliest historians of Impressionism.[1] In March 1894, Geffroy wrote a sympathetic article in the periodical Le Journal praising the work of painter Paul Cézanne who until then had received little praise in critical circles.[2] Mutual friend Claude Monet arranged for a meeting between the two in November of that year which ended abruptly due to Cézanne's oft-noted erratic behavior.[3] Nonetheless, Geffroy continued to write favorably of Cézanne, believing, "He is a great teller of truth. Passionate and candid, silent and subtle, he will go to The Louvre."[4] Cézanne expressed thanks in letters to Geffroy in the months following their meeting and, in a display of gratitude (and possible feeling that Geffroy understood him), he elected to paint Geffroy's portrait.[2]

The painter sent the critic a request in April 1895, after which Geffroy sat for Cézanne daily over a span of three months in the study at his home in Paris.[3] After the three months' time, Cézanne, disappointed with the portrait's results, fled both the painting and Paris itself for his home in Aix-en-Provence. In a July 6 letter to Monet, he explained, "I am a little upset at the meager result I obtained, especially after so many sittings and successive bursts of enthusiasm and despair."[5] It has also been speculated that, despite his words of gratitude in the same letter to Monet noting Geffroy's patience over the three-month span, the artist had built up feelings of resentment, even hostility, toward the critic, causing his abandonment of the project for seclusion in Aix.[6] Reasons for the breakdown in relations on Cézanne's part have been attributed to everything from politics to artistic principles to religion.[2][7]

Edgar Degas: Portrait of Duranty, 1879
Oil on canvas, 100.6 x 100.6 cm
Burrell Collection, Glasgow

Cézanne was unhappy with the painting and it was never finished, yet Portrait of Gustave Geffroy became a popular retrospective work after his death.[7] Cubist painters were interested in the geometrical dimensions of the bookcase and perspective of vast table space in relation to the rest of the pictorial space.[7] Geffroy noted that Cézanne painted the entire canvas at once, leaving the face and hands for last; they were ultimately unfinished.[6][7] The portrait has been described as angular, with the figure of Geffroy centered as a pyramidal or triangular figure, and surrounded by shelves, books and figurines complementing and converging on top of his profile.[8] The multiple angles of perspective, particularly with the books both in cases and on the table, have been noted for their "zig-zag" effect on the viewer, creating movement within the painting.[6]

The portrait has been noted as the continuation of a recurring Cézanne theme: people in their natural environment, reserved and unimposing, immersed in their everyday tasks.[9] It has also been compared to the earlier Portrait of Duranty by Edgar Degas, from which critics have speculated Cézanne drew inspiration.[6][7]

The painting was donated to the French state in 1969 by the family of collector Auguste Pellerin[10] and is on permanent display at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.


  1. ^ "Geffroy, Gustave". Dictionary of Art Historians. Retrieved 2011-04-30. 
  2. ^ a b c Newton, 41-42
  3. ^ a b Murphy, 100-01
  4. ^ Murphy, 163-64
  5. ^ Wadley, 103
  6. ^ a b c d Howard, 135
  7. ^ a b c d e "Paul Cézanne: Gustave Geffroy". Musée d'Orsay. 2006. Retrieved 2011-04-30. 
  8. ^ Wadley, 59
  9. ^ Schapiro, 100
  10. ^ "Gustave Geffroy 1895-96". National Gallery of Australia. 2009. Retrieved 2011-04-30. 


  • Howard, Michael. Cézanne. New York: Gallery Books, 1990. ISBN 0-8317-2827-2
  • Murphy, Richard W. The World of Cézanne. New York: Time-Life Books, 1968.
  • Newton, Joy. Cézanne's Literary Incarnations. French Studies: A Quarterly Review 61.1, 2007. 36-46.
  • Schapiro, Meyer. Cézanne. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1988. ISBN 0-8109-1043-8
  • Wadley, Nicholas. Cézanne and his art. New York: Galahad, 1975. ISBN 0-88365-248-X

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