Cézanne saw in Delacroix a vital link between the art of his contemporaries and that of the Old Masters. He owned a number of engravings of Delacroix’s work, but it was the strong color and dramatic tones which most appealed: “His remains the finest palette in France and nobody in our country has possessed at once such calm and pathos, such shimmering color. We all paint in him” (Cézanne quoted in Joachim Gasquet, Cézanne, A Memoir with Conversations (1897-1906), London, 1991, p. 197). John Rewald’s catalogue raisonné lists over 20 oil painting copies by Cézanne in styles which range from Neoclassicism, Rococo, Baroque, Mannerist and Impressionist, and particularly evident is his high regard for the colorists—Titian, Rembrandt and Delacroix—with works by Delacroix featuring most frequently. Cézanne’s lifelong admiration was shared by one of his own patrons, Victor Chocquet, who was also a passionate collector of Delacroix. In 1895 Cézanne accepted a watercolor by Delacroix (which he promptly copied) in exchange for one of his own works from an exhibition.
The figures in the lower register of the present work show Cézanne’s methods most clearly: the large square brushstrokes which model the arms for example, and the use of planes grouped together to create a sense of mass all point toward the distinctive style he would go on to develop. The first owner of the painting, Joachim Gasquet, was a poet, critic and friend whose 1921 book Cézanne is among the earliest appreciations of the artist's life and work. The subsequent owner, Xavier de Magallon was another poet, known for his classical translations into French.
Édouard Manet’s copies of The Barque of Dante made in the 1850s and 1860s are in the collections of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (see fig. 1).
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