Skip to Content
100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
French, 1839 - 1906
Madame Cézanne in Blue
Oil on canvas

29 3/16 x 24 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Robert Lee Blaffer Memorial Collection
Gift of Sarah Campbell Blaffer

Arts of Europe

Paul Cézanne produced more than 40 painted portraits of his wife, Hortense Fiquet, during their roughly three decades together. In the MFAH version, Hortense is striking in her plainness. Cézanne makes no attempt to probe her personality or emotional state. Rather, his primary interest is in the relationship of forms.

In Madame Cézanne in Blue, he creates subtle tensions between Hortense's body and the space that surrounds her. For example, the brown shapes in the background merge with her body in an undefined, mysterious manner, making the space behind her right side difficult to read. Also, the right side of her face is presented as a mask-like form, a cutout on top of the background. Cézanne's treatment of the left side of her body is completely different. Through contrasts of light and shade set against a light-filled background, he defines the space more clearly.

Cézanne's work exerted a profound influence on modern painting. First trained in his native Aix-en-Provence, Cézanne went in 1861 to Paris, where he studied at the informal Académie Suisse and met Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, who influenced Cézanne's artistic development. Cézanne sought—in contrast to his Impressionist contemporaries—a classicizing, less-naturalistic mode of expression, and he attempted to realize in his canvases the sensations of light and color that he saw in nature. In his maturity he came to harmonize two seemingly antagonistic styles; he imposed Impressionist free brushwork and the high-keyed color of natural light on compositions in which individual elements, including the human form, were reordered and even distorted.