PRINT December 1976

Cézanne’s ‘Bather’ and a Found Self-Portrait

CÉZANNE’S BATHER, IN THE MUSEUM of Modern Art, typifies a theme central to the master’s oeuvre: single or multiple bathing figures depicted in a landscape setting. The painting deserves our scrutiny on the basis of its power and conviction as a monumental form. It is also likely to be one of the most autobiographical of all the artist’s works; evidence suggests that it was a statement charged with profound personal significance for Cézanne, a painting produced during a crucial period in his life and reflective of a turning-point in his art. Secondary imagery in the landscape and sky of the painting include at least one self-portrait, and possible suggestions of others. Further, correspondence between Cézanne and Émile Zola not only throws light on the actual appearance of the bather and his environment, but also reveals a great deal about the meaning of the image as it relates to a life problem of the artist.

The figure of a bather standing with hands on hips and downcast eyes evolved in pencil sketches and group paintings of Bathers at Rest1 of the mid- to late 1870s and reached its maturation in the solitary Bather. It is now common knowledge that the pose of this bather was based on the photograph of a standing male model.2 In transferring the model’s image to the canvas, Cézanne’s modifications, which affected the head, chest and legs, as well as the general lighting of the model, made the bather a far more impressive figure.

While Cézanne was incorporating variations of the photograph model’s pose in group scenes, he was simultaneously exploring the theme of a solitary male bather who stands with arms outstretched, in three oil sketches of 1875 to 1878. He returned to this theme again around 1883, and the last canvas of this type was painted between 1885 and 1886. These bathers have been conveniently labelled as a series, Bather with Outstretched Arms; together with the Bather they are the only single bather paintings found in his output.3

The Bather appears to have been painted between 1888 and 1890. Stylistically it compares with works securely dated from that time, for example Cézanne’s portrait of his friend Victor Chocquet.4 When the forced poses of the earlier series are compared to the relaxed forms of the Bather, the latter makes an appropriate culmination to their open postures. The strained gesticulation of the outstretched arms is resolved in the relaxed, contained posture of hands on hips. Unlike the Bather with Outstretched Arms figures, with legs apart as if to steady themselves, the more mature Bather stands at ease, poised mid-step in a reverse of the Polykleitan canon. It is appropriate that he is the largest single bather in Cézanne’s oeuvre.

The mood evoked by the Bather is elusive. While the figure is suffused with the blues of the canvas, he appears estranged from his surroundings. Absorbed in contemplation, this Bather is not as firmly planted in the landscape as his predecessors, for the physical extension which characterizes them is replaced by a gesture of psychological containment. As Meyer Schapiro has observed:

There is in this monumental bather an abstract quality of feeling not easy to describe. Rigorously tied to the landscape, the figure is nevertheless detached, unaware of the world around him.5

It is a fantasy world which the Bather inhabits, a world unique in Cézanne’s oeuvre and made incongruous by the peculiar treatment of the landscape. While the bathers in the Bather with Outstretched Arms series stand on land near large bodies of water, the figure of the Bather was placed on top of a shallow pool of water with an expanse of land behind him. The water flows from the base of the large mountain in the painting’s background; it divides the middleground into two land areas and widens to stretch across the foreground of the canvas. The land surface in the middleground is curiously structured: at the bather’s right, the land is sand colored and barren; while at his left, clumps of green and ochre form verdant patches that grow alongside small pools of water.

In the sandy area at the bather’s right, on the same level as his knees and calves, but at the very edge of the painting, Cézanne’s blue stroking outside of the clearly defined water areas hints of a facial sketch: eyes, rubbed into the canvas with circular motions, as well as a nose and wedge-shaped mouth. The mouth shape, partially overpainted with the color of the sand, is still visible. A rather vague facial reference like this one is sometimes formed by the brushstrokes of a landscape and can easily be explained through coincidence. Moreover, Cézanne’s interweaving of hues and his multidirectional application of paint would seem to lend themselves to the development of such latent images.

There is another facial reference at the left edge of the canvas, directly above the one just mentioned. It appears in the large blue mountain, outlined in a dark blue, and therefore more difficult to find. It is a peculiar presence enclosed in a cranial shape: the right half of a partial face containing an eye, eyebrow and nose. Cézanne subdued this image even further by over-painting it completely with a lighter blue tint. In the middleground at the bather’s left, the patches of foliage and small pools of water lend themselves to a masklike eye, nose and mouth composition.6 Rotation of the painting 90 degrees to the right reveals the upper outline of the small mountain to be a whimsical profile with forehead, eye, nose, mouth and beard, topped with a shape that suggests an artist’s tam.7 In the upper right sky, the light blue clouds separate to allow the darker toned green background to show through; these clouds combine with the background to shape a full-bearded male face. Shoulders and hat emerge from the clouds to complete this image, which appears more dramatically in ultraviolet light. It is apparent that in the process of filling in the landscape and sky areas of the Bather, Cézanne’s hand was unconsciously preoccupied with expressing facial motifs.

What we know of Cézanne’s practice as an artist would seem to dismiss the possibility of his using secondary images deliberately. Another face in the Bather, however, far more explicit than those just described, and therefore all the more baffling, is most easily recognizable. In the upper left sky directly above the bather’s right shoulder a combination of bluish white cloud and Prussian blue underpainting join to form a bearded male rendered in profile and wearing a bowler hat. The face is turned toward the left showing the left eye and highlighting the left side of the nose. The thinned paint which drips down the canvas forms the mouth area between the nose and the beginning of the beard. It is clearly Cézanne’s face.

Two photographs verify the pointed beard and bowler hat; the pointed beard can be found in photographs of the artist and self-portraits after 1889, the year known as the time Cézanne trimmed his full grey beard into the pointed shape he wore until the year of his death. Once the self-portrait in the painting is recognized, it is virtually impossible to ignore, yet the image is the result of such a subtle and delicate fusion of background blues that its inclusion in the painting never interferes with the overwhelming presence of the Bather himself.8

Could this finely articulated secondary image appear through an unconscious manifestation of Cézanne’s creative will? Or could this self-portrait have been planned as an integral part of the painting? In such situations we are always on far safer ground by explaining secondary images as the result of unconscious dispositions.9 Theodore Reff discussed a cloud profile in one of the earliest Bather with Outstretched Arms paintings as “an unusual shape with a distinctly physiognomic silhouette.” He suggested that Cézanne unconsciously left the bather’s face with indistinct features and lacking a mouth, “perhaps because its expressive force has been transferred to the great white cloud directly opposite. . . .” 10

Examples of secondary images, some of which are recognizable as self-portraits, have been found in other Cézanne paintings and suggest that there is another dimension of Cézanne’s creative life which may yield new insights into the psychology of the artist." In Peasant in a Blue Shirt a seated figure is the focal point of the painting, but in the upper right background a separate composition of three overlapping images can be made out: a young woman in simple dress whose face remains featureless, the outline of a gesturing hand in a dark coat sleeve and the partially obscured outline of a bald head, and the dark arch of an eyebrow which are found above the girl and the hand. There can be little doubt that this distinctive head is Cézanne, as the fragmented outline is evident in numerous self-portraits, such as the Self-Portrait with Palette. Cézanne painted his self-portrait first, as the hand and feminine figure overlap upon the area of the painting where the rest of the artist’s face should be. Whether he meant originally to finish his likeness is questionable, for prior to sketching in the other two images, he overpainted the facial area of his self-portrait with the blue of the background. The fact that Cézanne’s image was not completely obscured suggests that its retention was deliberate. The bald pate and forehead, surrounded by the blue brushstrokes of the background, become a ghostly reminder of the artist’s presence, yet the outlined mass of Cézanne’s head and its position above the hand and feminine figure lend it a solidity reminiscent of the artist’s favorite mountain motifs.

The placement of a self-portrait high in the upper right of the picture plane does not work compositionally. Therefore, it is likely that the self-portrait was never meant as a primary figure. Rather it may be understood as a secondary image which the artist attempted to relate with the other two overlapping images. In any case, the Peasant in a Blue Shirt remains ambiguous; the partial self-portrait with its curious placement, the fragment of hand and arm, the faceless female, and the group’s disparate proportions all prevent a unified reading. The upper right of the painting appears to have been employed as a sketch pad on which Cézanne searched for a different means of pictorial expression. It might illustrate an attempt to visualize on canvas ideas with which he was preoccupied, yet unable to formulate within his usual artistic procedures.12

Since the image is easily discernible as a Cézanne self-portrait, its inclusion in the background sky would seem to indicate that Cézanne was making an introspective statement. The implication is that the Bather deserves consideration as a highly private declaration. Certain key events in Cézanne’s life which preceded the painting of the Bather were of such intensely personal significance that they could have caused such introspection. They suggest that the inclusion of the self-portrait was an attempt to formulate on canvas, whether consciously or otherwise, a dialectic impossible to express within the confines of traditional figure painting.

The years 1885 and 1886 have been well documented, in Cézanne’s personal life, as a time of unhappiness and crisis that plunged him into a deep depression. A rough draft of a letter from the spring of 1885, found written on the back of a drawing, is evidence of the timorous beginnings of an affair, when Cézanne became involved with a family servant: “I saw you and you permitted me to embrace you; from that moment a profound emotion has not stopped tormenting me. . . .”13 It has been supposed that Cézanne’s sister Marie dismissed the girl upon learning of the situation, but Cézanne made an attempt to continue the relationship by rerouting his mail through his best friend, Émile Zola. No communication between Cézanne and the young woman has been found. In April of 1886, less than a year later, Cézanne married Hortense Fiquet, who had been his occasional mistress for 14 years and was the mother of his illegitimate son Paul. It appears that he had stopped caring for Hortense long before their marriage. A letter to Zola in 1882 excludes her from his legacy: “In the event of my decease I should like to leave half my income to my mother and the other half to my little boy.”14 Cézanne apparently yielded to the pressures exerted by his mother and sister and agreed upon the marriage as atonement for past indiscretions and to legitimize his son. Through the years, the couple most often lived apart, beginning after the ceremony when Hortense and Paul, Jr. went back to Paris and Cézanne chose to remain in Aix with his parents.

The death of his father, Louis-Auguste, in the fall of 1886, could only have intensified any unhappiness Cézanne felt over his abortive love affair and subsequent marriage. Since his childhood, a love-hate ambivalence had chained Cézanne to his father. His feelings toward Louis-Auguste were revealed early in a childish sketch, a family group portrait: two line drawings of frail feminine figures, one of them merely a smiling profile, were probably his mother and sister Marie; the bust of a scowling coarse-featured man rendered in dark thick strokes must have been his father’s Years later Cézanne’s preoccupation with his father’s authoritarian position was demonstrated in a macabre poem he composed, a reversal of the Ugolino theme in which a bald father offers his children portions of a human skull to eat. And a second text, “Songe d’Annibal,” depicts a young drunken hero violently berated by his parent.18

The dominance exerted by Louis-Auguste in Cézanne’s youth was to continue throughout the artist’s maturity. Paul’s desire to study art had made him dependent upon the elder Cézanne for financial support; years later, as a middle-aged painter unable to sell his work and support himself, he continued to remain in a subservient role. His concern for losing his allowance motivated him to avoid any confrontation with his father. His letters to Zola reveal that for years he refused to acknowledge his relationship with Hortense and the existence of his son. Louis-Auguste had probably learned of the affair as early as 1878 when he opened a letter to Cézanne in which Hortense and Paul, Jr. were mentioned. The artist was so obsessed with defending his lie that he would go to any extreme: when he missed a train after visiting Hortense he walked the 18 miles back home for he feared that his lateness for dinner might cause his father suspicion. In an effort to end the deception, Louis-Auguste reduced Paul’s allowance by half, but the artist appealed to Emile Zola for monthly sums to continue the duplicity."

Louis-Auguste’s death in October 1886 left Cézanne financially independent and should have freed him at last from parental domination, but it brought home instead a painful awareness of his own mortality. In June of that year a close friend, the artist Adolphe Monticelli, died. Coming so close together, these deaths left Cézanne deeply shaken. He began to attend Mass regularly, explaining his newfound religiosity as insurance against eternal suffering: “I feel that I have only a few days left on earth—and then what? I believe I shall survive and do not want to risk roasting in eternum.”18

Yet his greatest single tragedy of the years immediately preceding the Bather may well have been the crisis of confidence that ruptured Cézanne’s lifelong friendship with Emile Zola. From their boyhood days in Aix, Cézanne and Zola had developed an intense companionship and deep trust. In a letter to Zola dated June 20, 1859, Cézanne included a drawing of what appears to have been his first bather theme: three boys swimming near a riverbank. It is most likely that the bathers represented Zola, Cézanne and their companion Bailie, for the youths often swam together in the Arc River. The text of Cézanne’s letter reveals the eagerness with which he anticipated another summer spent with his friend: From the content and frequency of their correspondence, it is clear that the future novelist was the only person in whom Cézanne could confide. In later years, their letters reveal that Zola had become a combination father figure, mentor and benign critic.20

Yet in April of 1886, their relationship was suddenly terminated with a note to Zola, ostensibly written to thank him for a copy of his latest novel L’Oeuvre. It was Cézanne’s last communication with his good friend:

I have just received L’Oeuvre which you were kind enough to send me. I thank the author of the “Rougon-Macquart” for this kind token of remembrance and ask him to allow me to clasp his hand whilst thinking of bygone days. Ever yours under the impulse of old times, Paul Cézanne21

The artist had been aware of the novel L’Oeuvre before. Zola sent him a copy. In February 1886 Cézanne had attended a party in which the new novel was discussed and judged “absolutely bad.” John Rewald has observed that in Cézanne’s note the formal tone and emphasis on the past, as well as the absence of any praise for the novel, suggest an intentional letter of farewell.22 Zola apparently understood, for no evidence exists that he ever tried to renew their friendship.

The reason for the break seems to have been the fact that Claude Lantier, the protagonist in Zola’s novel, was significantly modelled upon Cézanne. The fictional artist Lantier had made his debut in Le Ventre de Paris, written by Zola in 1873 and serialized in the magazine Gil Blas. Lantier’s character was developed further in L’Oeuvre, however, and to achieve this end Zola borrowed considerably from Balzac’s short story “Le Chef d’oeuvre inconnu.” Ironically, Cézanne might have been the one who recalled Balzac’s tale to Zola, for the artist had told Emile of his delight in finding his own artistic theories expressed by the story’s protagonist, Frenhofer.23 Cézanne’s identification with the fictional artist was based upon Balzac’s depiction of “le recherche de l’absolu,” the desire to express on canvas the very essence of nature.24 Zola adopted Frenhofer’s basic theories for Lantier and also borrowed considerably from Frenhofer’s emotional makeup: the frustrations of artistic impotence ended in suicide for Frenhofer and Lantier. Zola’s correspondence reveals his belief that Cézanne, like Frenhofer and Lantier, was destined to be a failure, an abortive genius. In a letter to Bailie, he was explicit: “Paul may have the genius of a great painter: he will never have the genius to understand it.”25

Zola’s working notes describe Lantier as a “dramatized Cézanne, closer to Cézanne than to anyone else,”26 and Zola’s daughter remarked, “Claude Lantier is Paul Cézanne. It is obvious to everyone else.”27 Despite these facts, a considerable amount of scholarship has investigated the degree of Cézanne’s characterization in L’Oeuvre and some have questioned whether the novel was reason enough for Cézanne’s break with Zola.28 Claude Lantier is no literary doppelgänger for Paul Cézanne, for Lantier’s artistic philosophy was a composite of ideas borrowed from Balzac, Cézanne, Manet and the Impressionists. But these synthesized theories were irrelevant to the rupture between Cézanne and Zola. I have not discussed the highly personalized and inflammatory parts of the novel, specific passages of which allude to Cézanne in such clear and pointed terms that the artist could not fail to recognize a caricature of himself in print.

Like Cézanne, Lantier was depicted as the father of an only child, but Lantier’s obsessive devotion to art made him indifferent to his son’s welfare. Through gross neglect the child’s emotional and physical health deteriorated:

Poor Jacques, in spite of his nine years, did not seem to be growing; his head alone became larger and larger. They nearly always allowed him to live on all fours around them, crawling from one corner to another.29

To Cézanne, who adored his own son, Lantier’s behavior must have been abhorrent. Zola went further: Lantier’s neglect ultimately caused his son’s death. A literary tableau follows in which two unmistakable references to Cézanne’s own artistic obsessions, his search for a model who could retain a fixed pose indefinitely and his implacable struggle for Salon acceptance, were woven into a macabre scene. Lantier is shown working on a portrait of his dead son; bitterly remonstrated by his wife, he nevertheless remains obsessed by the opportunity which Jacques’s death has afforded him:

‘Ah, you can paint him now, he’ll never stir again. . .’ For five hours Claude kept at it. . . ‘You are sure you like it?’ (He asks about his painting of the dead child.) ‘In that case as the other isn’t ready I’ll send this to the Salon.’

With a pessimism which Cézanne could not help but recognize as an assessment of his own career, Sandoz, Lantier’s confidant and a third-person representation of Zola, passed judgment on the fictional artist:

his feeling of artistic brotherliness had increased since he had seen Claude losing ground, foundering amidst the heroic folly of art.

Sandoz also revealed how Lantier’s failures had affected their friendship, causing the successful writer to experience misery at his inability to help his struggling friend:

he had been grievously affected by that bankruptcy of genius; he had become full of bitter, heartfelt pity at the sight of the horrible torture of impotency.

The message to Cézanne could not have been clearer: Cézanne’s failure to establish artistic credibility through the Salon, and the anxiety under which the artist had labored for so many years, were proof to Zola of Cézanne’s own artistic impotence. To the artist who had shared with his dear friend not only his anxiety, but also his innermost thoughts and desires, the writer’s brutal diagnosis, his “heartfelt pity” and resultant solicitous patronage came as an unexpected and cruel jolt. Yet Cézanne’s last letter to Zola ended their friendship on a positive note, suggesting the artist wished to retain in his memory the vestiges of those happier times they had spent together in their youth.

The severing of Cézanne’s lifelong friendship with Zola, the death of his father, the loveless marriage, the lost servant girl, the death of his friend Monticelli, all occurred within the year 1886; coming so close together these events would have shaken the most stable individual. Their impact upon Cézanne was profound. The dedicated painter who had painstakingly reworked his ideas on canvas, and despite constant rejections had submitted them regularly to the Salon for over 20 years, withdrew from competition. Formerly a prolific letter writer, he stopped corresponding. A letter in May of 1886 to his friend Victor Choquet, translated in Rewald’s edition of Cézanne’s letters, is the last example found of written communication during the next two years. It reveals the pessimism and self-doubt which had taken over the artist’s life:

. . . .I am taking the liberty of saying this: that I should have wished to possess the intellectual equilibrium that characterizes you and permits you to achieve without fail the desired end. Chance has not favored me with an equal self-assurance.

One particular paragraph was graphically poetic and illustrated Cézanne’s sense of failure:

. . . .as regards the realization of the most simple wishes, which seem as if they should proceed by themselves, a luckless fate is apparently present to impair success; I had a few vineyards, but unseasonable frost came and cut the thread of my hopes.

Self-Portrait with Palette, painted sometime during this period of crisis, gives visual evidence of the painful self-questioning which filled Cézanne. The artist’s left eye turns inward, as if to establish eye contact with the viewer, but his right eye has been focused on an area intermediary to his easel and the viewer. It is significant that Cézanne chose not to portray himself regarding the viewer directly, as he had often done in more confident times. As self-portraits are painted by looking into a mirror, this impersonal attitude perhaps implies that Cézanne was unable to affect a successful confrontation, not only with the spectator, but with himself.

He remained in seclusion at Aix for the next year. In 1888 he returned to Paris; thoughts of Claude Lantier must have retained a strong hold upon him, for he chose to live on the Ile St. Louis in the Quai d’Anjou, a new location for Cézanne and significantly the very spot Zola had selected as the residence of Claude Lantier.30 Cézanne remained on the island for two years, traveling to Chantilly and the Paris environs to paint landscapes. It was at this time that he broke his silence by visiting and corresponding again with old friends. He also became involved in the city’s artistic life and enjoyed at last a small measure of recognition from participation in shows.

During this Parisian period, Cézanne had come to grips with himself, for the years of 1888–90 were a turning point in his life. The fact that he began producing his greatest works at this time has often been observed and Meyer Schapiro calls the years from 1890 to his death a “period of magnificent growth.” Evidence points to Zola as the person both responsible for Cézanne’s recovery and the prime inspiration for Cézanne’s painting the Bather.

Zola had offered Cézanne three decades of advice prior to L’Oeuvre, expressed in large part through frequent correspondence, and it is well known that Cézanne not only saved all of Zola’s letters, which were filled with fond memories of their boyhood days, but that he often reread them. One particular letter, written in July of 1860 when Zola was trying to persuade the wavering Paul to leave the oppressive atmosphere of Aix and study art in Paris, was pointedly prophetic and relevant to Cézanne’s crisis of 1886–90. Zola had attacked Cézanne’s doubt and suggested the path to self-assurance:

Why this discouragement, this impatience? You have no right to judge yourself incapable. So take courage; all that you have done until now is nothing. Courage, and think that, to arrive at your goal, it will require years of study and perseverance.

Zola also warned Cézanne of the consequences of diffidence and indecision, the very fears which gripped the artist in 1886 and prevented constructive action:

. . . you lack character; you have a horror of fatigue of any sort, in thought as well as deed; your great principle is to let the water flow and give yourself up to time and chance. This system of conduct you have already followed in love; you were waiting for, you said, the time and the circumstance; you know better than I that neither the one nor the other arrived. The water always flows and one day the swimmer is astounded to find nothing but burning sand. (Italics mine)31

In light of what had happened in the intervening years, Zola’s letter not only demanded a new answer but also provided the symbols to do so: the bather who recalled their boyhood swims, the stream of water and the burning sand. Zola himself had used a comparable image in L’Oeuvre with the description of young Lantier and his friend Sandoz “drying themselves on burning sand.”

The Bather’s most significant aspect is its symbolic recognition of the past and confident affirmation of the ability to profit from it. The bather, present in the painting as in Zola’s letter, studies the shallow pool of water at his feet and reflects upon Zola’s prophecy of indecision, “The water always flows and one day the swimmer is astounded to find nothing but burning sand.” As the water is still visible, the bather is poised at that moment when a decision can be made. In that same letter, Zola counseled Cézanne to take action:

. . . . our friendship excuses my frankness. . .. If I were in your place I would like to have it out, risk everything for everything, not waver vaguely between two such different futures, the studio and the bar. One choice or the other, be a real lawyer or a real artist; but do not remain a nameless being. . . ..

The bather’s position midway between sand on his right and vegetation on his left suggests that a choice between sterility and growth is open to him; moreover, the strength and balance inherent in the bather’s classical stance implies that he will make the right choice. In his youth Cézanne had dreamed of himself as the hero of epic choices, Hercules at the Crossroads. An allusion to the mythological hero is recalled in the figure of the Bather, making it an affirmation of Cézanne’s decision not to “remain a nameless being.” Long before, the artist had confided to Zola his secret admiration for Hercules. Hercules first appeared in Cézanne’s work with a poem he composed in 1858; the poem is lost, but a letter from Zola in August of 1860 proves that it existed. A quatrain Cézanne sent to Zola at that same time offers insight into why Cézanne felt a kinship with the classical hero and why he adopted Hercules’ position at the crossroads for his own predicament in 1860. He wrote of taking the most tortuous route, a road forced upon him, the “horrible righteous path” which had given him “three ghastly years.”32 Cézanne chose the word “droit” in his poem for its dual meaning in French: as reference to the study of law, which his father had been pushing upon him, and as symbol for the “right” path, the long and difficult Herculean way, which Cézanne felt he must follow.

For Cézanne, of course, the Herculean way was the path of art. The Bather appears, therefore, as a tripartite personality, a bather-Hercules-Cézanne. With thoughtful expression and virile presence, the Bather stands at the crossroads and reaffirms Cézanne’s 1860 decision to become a “real artist.” Reliving on canvas both the warning and solution contained in Zola’s 1860 letter, Cézanne affirmed the need to overcome the depression which had been caused by the events of 1885 and 1886.

The bather metaphor began in 1859 with an ebullient sketch Cézanne sent to Zola. The fact that Cézanne could take Zola’s written image of the bather, the indecisive swimmer of 1860, and transform it from a symbol of failure into a positive statement is testimony to the artist’s resilience and tenacity. In recognizing the past and declaring for the future, the Bather became an optimistic reference to Cézanne’s awareness of and confident entry back into the stream of opportunity. The Bather with Outstretched Arms has already been identified as "a projection of Cézanne himself, an image of his own solitary condition.33 The contrasts between the strained poses in the Bather with Outstretched Arms series and the closed arms and confident forward stride of the Bather suggest that the latter was painted at a time when the 50-year-old artist had found a measure of peace and was finally able to accept his own mortality.

Created by the mature artist of 1889, Cézanne’s self-portrait in the Bather invites us to share the hard-earned truths he has learned from the contemplation of what has been, what is, and what is yet to come. So, all his perceptions of time, the span of past, present, and future in his own life, are mystically interwoven into the very imagery of the work.

Diane Lesko is Visiting Lecturer in Art History at Hartwick College.

This article is an abbreviated version of a longer and more technical paper which was originally accepted for publication by the Art Quarterly. It was first presented at the Frick Symposium on the History of Art in 1971.



1. Lionello Venturi distinguished this bather from the others with the title Le Grand Baigneur (Cézanne: son art, son oeuvre, Paris, 1936, #548). See Jerome Klein, The Lillie P. Bliss Collection, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1934, pp. 26–28.

2. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Masters of Modern Art, New York. 1954. p. 22. Museum of Modern Art photo collection.

3. See Theodore Reff, “Cezanne’s Bather with Outstretched Arms,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 11X, 1962, 173–190.

4. John Rewald. “Chocquet and Cézanne.” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, LXXIV, 1969, 68.

5. Paul Cézanne, New York, 1952, 68.

6. John L. Connolly, Jr. has pointed out this crude face and the facial sketch in the large mountain. I am indebted to him for his help and encouragement with this study.

7. Meyer Schapiro was kind enough to review a transparency I sent him of the Bather. He noticed this profile and another with a full beard which he sees near the bather’s left arm. In pointing out these facial caricatures Prof. Schapiro did not imagine them to be consciously painted by Cézanne, but rather he suggested that they might have some importance for “unconscious dispositions.”

8. I am grateful to Jean Volkmer, then Assoc. Conservator of Painting at the Museum of Modern Art, for her detailed answers to technical questions concerning the condition of the canvas. Fortunately, the quality of the surface and the accuracy of the color is virtually the same today as it was when the canvas was completed by Cézanne.

9. Examples have been found of secondary images in the work of Gauguin from this time. In the Women of Arles, 1888, the large bush in the left foreground contains a face; in the portrait of Vincent Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers Gauguin repeated Vincent’s eye in the eye of the sunflower, “as if the flower were a manifestation of Vincent’s early life.” See Wayne Anderson. Gauguin’s Paradise Lost, New York, 1971, pp. 80-81.

10. Refl. “Cézanne’s Bather with Outstretched Arms,” 178.

11. In the 1906 watercolor Bridge of Les Trois Sautets, (V. 1076), a facial construct fits neatly into a break in the bridge and acts as a focal point for the left of the canvas. The mustache and pointed beard on this face once again suggest the artist’s appearance (reproduced in Cézanne, An Exhibition in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Phillips Collection. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1971, p. 95, fig. 64). Mr. Curt I. Johnson, himself a watercolorist, brought this secondary image to my attention.

12. The gesturing hand, which points toward Cézanne and the faceless woman. is a curious repetition of the gestures bestowed upon Delacroix and a faceless nude in Cézanne’s oil sketch, Apotheosis of Delacroix, which Meyer Schapiro discusses in “The Apples of Cézanne: An Essay on the Meaning of Still-Life,” Art News Annual, XXXIV, 1968, 49, 53, 0.89.

13. John Rewald. ed., Cézanne Letters, Oxford, 1946, p. 174.

14. Rewald, p. 164 (also see pp. 175f and p. 219).

15. The sketch is reproduced in Marcel Provence. “Cézanne Collegien, Les prix de Cezanne,” Mercure de France, CLXXXI, 1925, 822.

16. Emile Zola. Correspondance. Lettres de jeunesse. Paris. 1907, pp. 42ff, p.49 and p.1-3; Meyer Schapiro, “The Apples of Cezanne.” 48; T. Reff, “Cezanne’s Dream of Hannibal.” Art Bulletin, XLV, 1963. 148ff.

17. See Rewald, Cézanne Letters, pp. 109 and passim; Rewald, Paul Cézanne, New York, 1948, p.110.

18. Rewald, Paul Cézanne, p. 115.

19. Rewald, ed., Cézanne Letters, p. 41.

20. See Emile Zola. Correspondence; Emile Zola, Oeuvres completes; X: Lettres de Jeunesse. 1858-1871. ed. by M. LeBlond, Paris, 1928.

21. Rewald, ed., Cézanne Letters, p. 182.

22. Rewald, Paul Cézanne, pp. 156-7; also Rewald, ed., Cézanne Letters, p. 184.

23. Emile Bernard, “Souvenirs sur Paul Cézanne,” Mercures de France, LXIX, 1907, 40-41; Rewald, “Cézanne Theories about Art,” Art News. LXXIV, 1969, 30-31.

24. See A.W. Raitt. ed.. Balzac Short Stories, Oxford, 1964, “Notes,” p. 213.

25. Zola, Correspondence, pp. 218 and 285.

26. Emile Zola, L’Oeuvre, ed. by M. LeBlond, Paris, 1928, p. 410.

27. Denise LeBlond-Zola, Emile Zola raconte par sa fille, Paris, 1936, p. 141,

28. Most specifically, Robert Neiss. Zola, Cézanne and Manet; A Study of L’Oeuvre, Ann Arbor, 1968. See also Patrick Brady, L’Oeuvre de Emile Zola, Geneva, 1967, biblio. pp. 449

29. Emile Zola, L’Oeuvre, trans. by E.A. Vizetelly, London, 1902. All quotations from L’Oeuvre are found in this translation.

30. Gerstle Mack, Paul Cézanne, New York, 1935, p. 321.

31. Zola, Oeuvres Completes, pp. 237–8.

32. See Theodore Reff’s article “Cézanne and Hercules,” Art Bulletin, XLVIII, 1966, 36.

33. Reff, “Cézanne’s Bather with Outstretched Arms,” 174.