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Paul Cézanne - Boy with the red vest

by Alexandra Tuschka

The "Boy with the Red Vest" gained sad notoriety in 2008 when it was stolen along with three other paintings from the Bührle Collection in Zurich in the "biggest art heist in Europe". Four years later, the work resurfaced in Serbia and now hangs in the original collection.

It is one of a total of six works that the painter made of the Italian professional model Michelangelo di Rosa. Four oil paintings and two watercolors show the young man in red vest, who gave his name to the works. In the work that hangs today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cezanne shows the man in profile with his shoulders drooping; his hands wearily folded over each other in his lap. The green curtain and the brown bar in the background make the environment of both works, although reduced, recognizable.

In this one, the young man rests his head boredly in his arm. This is unnaturally elongated and dominates the front picture space. The work seems to be entirely dedicated to color. Red, brown, blue, blue-green and white are juxtaposed here in clear areas. The boy's clothing is folkloristic: the red vest, the blue neckerchief, the blue trousers and the white shirt complete the clear composition . The green curtain closes the work on the left edge of the picture.

A series of diagonals interlock here. Thus the composition lines of the curtain, the back and the belly are opposite those of the arms. Cézanne was not interested in stringent perspective - the painting dispenses with much depth space by juxtaposing the surfaces in an almost cubist manner. The blue-green shadows on skin and shirt also unify the image. The tranquilized everyday scene here was subject to the artist's desire to translate three-dimensionality to the two-dimensional canvas and explore deeper structures of the surrounding world.

Paul Cézanne - Boy with the red vest

Oil on canvas, 1888/90, 79.5 x 64 cm, Foundation E. G. Bührle Collection in Zurich


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