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As Joseph Rishel once pointed out, Fiquet Cézanne has never been identified as the artist's muse.In fact, some writers seem to have regarded her as a veritable "counter-muse," an uncooperative helpmate who not only failed to provide sufficient inspiration for the artist, but who acted as a positive hindrance to achievement.Writing to a friend about the life of the artist he was struggling to frame, Fry confided, "It's complicated to begin with, and life changed him enormously.Perhaps that sour-looking bitch of a Madame counts for something in the tremendous repression that took place." Jack Lindsay, a later biographer, was even less decorous than Fry.The body of Cézanne scholarship is among the weightiest in modernism.Yet, despite that fact, there is a group of paintings by Cézanne that remain mysterious and resistant to theorization—the twenty-six oil portraits which the painter produced of his wife, Hortense Fiquet Cézanne, between 18.Alexis referred to Fiquet Cézanne several times as "La Boule," (the ball), an undoubtedly unflattering nickname that has never been explained, and reported that Cézanne had confided that his wife liked nothing besides Switzerland and lemonade.
With a handful of exceptions, the portraits at first appear collectively to be enigmatic, even remote.Their stubborn opacity frustrates viewers accustomed to anticipating the disclosure of self that the nineteenth-century portrait is generally assumed to offer—especially when the subject is a woman fixed in the controlling gaze of a male painter.Over the years, Fiquet Cézanne has been much maligned for her regrettable lack of beauty (that being historically one of the ultimate arbiters as to whether a woman was worthy of being painted), as well as for her sour disposition, and her failure to smile—a refusal to ingratiate which in many accounts seems to be considered the most damning offense.For years, Cézanne tried desperately to conceal his liaison, and his illegitimate child, from his father, fearing that funds would be cut off.His father, (who had, himself, fathered Cézanne out of wedlock), seems to have known of his son's family despite the subterfuge, and never interrupted his financial support.
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Cézanne's hesitations about women in particular and sexuality in general, were already deeply entrenched.