The French painter Paul Cézanne is best known for his monumental landscape paintings. 'The Murder' is one of Cézanne's early paintings, an unusually dramatic piece which conveys the brutality of the act.
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. Only its outline head and arms are distinct under the ferocious force of the two murderers.
The murderers have no faces, but the victim's is contorted with pain. Cézanne is not concerned with the identities of the murderers; they could be anybody. Cézanne presents the act as one of anonymous violence; their crime is given no explanation. The threatening sky, the suggestion of a riverbank where the body will be thrown, and the desolate surrounding space all contribute to the menacing nature of the scene.
It was painted at a time when Cézanne was still under the influence of Old Masters such as Gericault (1791 - 1824) and Velazquez (1599 - 1660). 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 sweeping movement of the male murderer, obvious in his jacket and legs, conveys the power of the moment. His hands and legs are elongated and distorted for the same effect. The handling of paint is heavy and in many parts rounded, for example in the arms of the collaborator, foretelling of the luminous volumes of Cézanne's more famous landscapes.
Cézanne repeated the theme of 'The Murder' in a watercolour (now in a private collection) dated around 1874-75.The watercolour has the same composition, but the murderer's face is no longer hidden and the victim is raising her hand in supplication. In the watercolour the landscape is specific and resembles the views of L'Estaque, a small town in southern France, featured in many paintings by Cézanne.