The Boy in the Red Vest (1889-90) by Cezanne
Interpretation of Impressionist Portrait

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The Boy in the Red Vest
By Paul Cezanne.
Regarded as one of the
greatest portrait paintings of
the nineteenth century.

The Boy in the Red Vest (1889-90)


Analysis of The Boy in the Red Vest
E.G. Buhrle Collection
Interpretation of Other Impressionist Figure Paintings


Name: "The Boy in the Red Vest" ("The Boy in the Red Waistcoat") (1889-90)
French: Le Garcon au gilet rouge
Artist: Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Portrait art
Movement: Impressionism
Location: E.G. Buhrle Collection, Zurich, Switzerland

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).


See: How to Appreciate Art.


Belonging to Cezanne's late period, this painting - a unique mix of Impressionism and Classicism - ranks alongside Man Smoking a Pipe (1890-2), The Card Players (1892-6), Woman with a Coffee Pot (1890-5), Lady in Blue (1900), and Young Italian Woman Leaning on her Elbow (1900) as one of Cezanne's greatest masterpieces of modern art. Actually he painted four Impressionist portraits of this particular Italian boy, each in a different pose, of which the E.G. Buhrle painting (boy with head cradled in hand) is the most famous. The 19th century art critic Gustave Geffroy stated that it compared with the finest figure painting of the Old Masters. The other three, equally fine, versions are in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (boy with hand on hip); MOMA (boy in profile); and the Barnes Foundation (boy from front). In February 2008, the E.G.Buhrle portrait was stolen from the Buhrle Foundation's premises in Zurich. Valued at close to $100 million, it was finally recovered in April 2012, hidden in a car roof in Serbia. In addition to the four oil paintings, Cezanne also produced a watercolour and pencil drawing entitled The Boy in the Red Vest (1889-90, Private Collection).

Analysis of The Boy in the Red Vest by Cezanne

This picture, also known as The Boy in the Red Waistcoat, is a strikingly modern production in colour and form, with distinctive blocks of red, grey, brown, blue or greeny-blue, and white - all in keeping with the sitter's traditional Italian dress, with its red waistcoat, blue kerchief and belt. The reduced palette creates a sense of balance, repeating colours in several areas. A number of diagonals intersect and echo each other: such as the angle of the sitter's tilted back and head, his arms and forearms, and the long diagonal of the seat and table top rising from the lower left. These not only create a complex and optically interesting structure, but also they help to direct the viewer's eye around a circle made up of the face, right-arm and up to the supporting elbow which points back to the face. Note that the same interior can be seen in portraits of the artist's wife, Hortense Fiquet (1850-1922).



Like Woman with a Coffee Pot, viewpoints change across the canvas. The table surface, for instance, is seen from above, while the boy is viewed from the side. It was this device of using multiple viewpoints that inspired Picasso (1881-1973) to invent Analytical Cubism along with Georges Braque (1882-1963).

Cezanne sold this version of The Boy in the Red Vest in 1895 to his art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), after which it passed through the hands of art collectors like the Hungarian Marcell Nemes (1866-1930), in 1909, and the German businessman Gottlieb Reber (1880-1959) in 1913. In 1948 Reber sold it to the art collector and patron Emil Georg Buhrle. In 1960, in the wake of Buhrle's death, the painting was donated to the E.G. Buhrle Foundation.

NOTE: For other major paintings by Paul Cezanne, please see: The House of the Hanged Man (1873); The Bridge at Maincy (1879); the Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings (1882-1906) and The Large Bathers (1894-1905).

E.G. Buhrle Collection

Emil Georg Buhrle (1890-1956) was a successful arms manufacturer, art collector and patron of the arts. He was associated with the Emil Buhrle Foundation for the Swiss literature (1943), the Goethe Foundation for Art and Science (1944) and the Foundation of the cultivation of the Kunsthaus Zurich (1954). His fine art collection - threequarters of which was acquired between the years 1951 and 1956 - is now owned by the Foundation E.G. Buhrle. It encompasses medieval sculptures and Old Masters paintings, works by French Impressionists, and various modern paintings by Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso.

The bulk of the collection, however, consists of Impressionist paintings by the likes of Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Renoir and Alfred Sisley; as well as Post-Impressionist painting by Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh and others. Highlights include: A Girl Reading (1845-50) by Camille Corot; Self-Portrait with Palette (1890) by Cezanne; The Suicide (1877-81) by Manet; Reclining Nude (1916) by Modigliani; Poppies near Vetheuil (1880) by Claude Monet; Blossoming Chestnut Branches (1890) by Van Gogh; and others.

Following the publication of a report by an independent commission of Swiss art experts, Buhrle was obliged to return thirteen paintings, previously owned by French Jews, to their former owners or their descendants.

NOTE: For the complete story of French Impressionism and the young artists who influenced it it, see our 10-part series, beginning with: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.

Interpretation of Other Impressionist Figure Paintings

Family Reunion (1867) Musee d'Orsay. By Frederic Bazille.

Portrait of Emile Zola (1868) Musee d'Orsay. By Manet.

Portrait of Berthe Morisot With Violets (1872) Musee d'Orsay. By Manet.

The Ballet Class (1871-4) Musee d'Orsay. By Edgar Degas.

Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876) Musee d'Orsay. By Renoir.

Luncheon Of the Boating Party (1880-1) Phillips Collection. By Renoir.

Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882) MFA, Boston. By Singer Sargent.


• For analysis of other Impressionist paintings, see: Homepage.

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