Journal Article

‘Frenhofer, c’est moi’: Cézanne’s Nudes and Balzac’s <i>Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu</i>

Jon Kear

in The Cambridge Quarterly

Published on behalf of Cambridge Quarterly

Volume 35, issue 4, pages 345-360
Published in print October 2006 | ISSN: 0008-199X
Published online October 2006 | e-ISSN: 1471-6836 | DOI:
‘Frenhofer, c’est moi’: Cézanne’s Nudes and Balzac’s Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu

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This paper looks at Cézanne’s representation of the nude in relation to key themes in Balzac’s influential novella Le Chefd’œuvre inconnu. Comparisons between the problems Balzac’s protagonist, the painter Frenhofer, faced in completing his unfinished masterpiece and Cézanne’s own problems with the realisation of his Grandes baigneuses pictures became a leitmotif of the reception of his art. This article looks at the terms of this reception, but goes beyond this to suggest how Cézanne’s interest in Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu also involved a subtler engagement with underlying aesthetic issues posed within Balzac’s narrative. It argues that the sub-text of Balzac’s novella, the unresolved relationship between art and desire, became the focus of a series of key pictures by Cézanne on this theme, in which he depicts himself at the painter-protagonist confronting the choice between artistic vocation and sexual gratification.

Journal Article.  6529 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literature ; Art ; Film ; Music

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