'The Murder', Paul Cézanne, painted about 1867-1868

A dark painting of two men, as described below

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

Oil on canvas, 65.4 x 81.2cm

Accession number WAG 6242



Paul Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence in the South of France. As a student in the Bourbon college Cézanne became a friend of the novelist Emile Zola (1840-1902). They established a lasting friendship which continued even when Zola moved to Paris in 1858.


Cézanne also practised at the Academie Suisse, an informal establishment which enabled artists to draw from life models. There he met the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). Under his influence Cézanne turned away from painting figures to work in the open air, producing landscapes of the Aix-en-Provence countryside. Despite spending long periods of time in the capital, Cézanne was alienated by Parisian society. He soon moved back to his hometown where he remained for most of his life.

Cézanne is seen as a forerunner to the modern movement of Cubism. He advised his friend and painter Emile Bernard to "treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone", and this has often been used to emphasise the geometry of Cézanne's work and his links with Cubism. However Cézanne's elimination of details, the reliance on basic forms and the construction of his compositions as a harmony of colours place him closer to modern abstraction.

'The Murder' is an early painting and quite different to his later work. It was painted at a time when Cézanne was still under the influence of Old Masters such as Gericault and Velazquez.

Cézanne's choice of this brutal subject may have been inspired by Zola's novel 'Thérèse Racquin' in which the heroine murders her husband. The painting's similarity with illustrations in the popular press suggests that they too could have been a source of inspiration.

The three figures in 'The Murder' form a triangle whose parallel sides are forces in opposing directions: the murderer is lifting his hand ready to give the final blow while his collaborator is using all her strength to keep the victim down. The body of the victim has almost disappeared under the force of the two murderers.

Purchased with the help of the Art Fund.

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