Like critic Meyer Schapiro, many 20th-century artists also saw Paul Cézanne as a sort of spiritual forbearer. Pablo Picasso called him a “mother hovering over”; Henri Matisse said he was a “father to us all.” As much as it is a portrait of a wistful young man, this painting is equally, and perhaps as essentially, an arrangement of colors and shapes. We can see it as a kind of stepping-off point for modern art, one with direct links to those younger artists’ work. The greens and mauves Cézanne used in the boy’s face and hands, for example, are like the “wild” colors that won Matisse and his colleagues the title “fauve” (wild beast), arbitrary touches with little connection to human flesh. The background—it is hard even to “read” it as floral-patterned drapery—is fractured and flattened into a kaleidoscope of angles and arcs in a way that looks forward to the reconstructed spaces of the first cubist experiments by Georges Braque and Picasso.
Artist: Paul Cézanne
Nationality: French, 1839 – 1906
Title: Boy in a Red Waistcoat
Date Created: 1888-1890
Location: National Gallery of Art – Washington, DC 20565
Dimensions: 89.5 x 72.4 cm (35 1/4 x 28 1/2 in.)
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art