Man Smoking a Pipe (1890-2) by Paul Cezanne
Interpretation of Impressionist Portrait Painting

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Man Smoking a Pipe
(Paulin Paulet)
Hermitage Museum.
By Cezanne.
Regarded as one of the
greatest portrait paintings of
the artist's late period.

Man Smoking a Pipe (1890-2)


Analysis of Man Smoking a Pipe
Explanation of Other Impressionist Figure Paintings


Name: Man Smoking a Pipe (The Smoker) (c.1890-2)
Artist: Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Portrait art
Movement: Impressionism
Location: Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

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

Man with a Pipe
('le pere Alexandre')
Courtauld Gallery, London.
By Paul Cezanne.
A masterpiece of modern art.


See: How to Appreciate Art.


Man Smoking a Pipe is one of several Impressionist portraits painted by Cezanne of pipe smokers, mostly featuring peasants (notably 'le pere Alexandre and Paulin Paulet, both of whom appear in The Card Players, Musee d'Orsay) who worked on the Cezanne estate known as Le Jas de Bouffan. The most famous of these are: Man Smoking a Pipe (1890-2, Hermitage, St. Petersburg); The Smoker (1891-2, Stadtische Kunstshalle, Mannheim); Man with a Pipe (1892, Courtauld Gallery, London); and Man Smoking a Pipe (1902) Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. In addition, Cezanne completed a famous pencil drawing entitled Leaning Smoker (1891, Barnes Foundation). Although often classified under Post-Impressionism during the 1890s, he is really best described as a modernist who used a loose Impressionistic style of painting - not least because there is no agreement as to what constitutes Post-Impressionist painting. At any rate, these pictures of smokers - like his Card Players (1892-6) - represent the high point of his monumental peasant pictures, in preparation for which he completed numerous drawings and oil sketches: see, for instance, Man with a Pipe (1890-2, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City). Other similar works completed during the 1890s, include: The Boy in the Red Vest (1889-90); Woman with a Coffee Pot (1895); the sublime Lady in Blue (1900); Young Italian Woman Leaning on her Elbow (1900, J. Paul Getty Museum, LA).

Analysis of Man Smoking a Pipe by Cezanne

Cezanne painted three versions of Paulin Paulet leaning on his elbow, smoking a small white clay pipe. Here, he is sitting in the kitchen of Jas de Bouffan, leaning on a table covered in the brown tablecloth seen in The Card Players (Musee d'Orsay) - a painting in which he also appears. Cezanne gives him a calm, solid pose, devoid of any gesture or expression, which lends him a certain gravitas. A small still life arrangement, consisting of some fruit and two bottles of wine, can be seen behind his elbow. His hat is pushed back on his head and his suit has been painted in grey tones. Perhaps because of these light greys, as well as the blues and golds in the rest of the picture, the work appears much less sombre than Paulin's portrait in The Smoker (1891-2) in Mannheim. Paulin also appears in the more lyrical version of Man Smoking a Pipe (1890-2) in Moscow. His opponent in The Card Players (Musee d'Orsay), 'le pere Alexandre' is also the sitter for Man with a Pipe at the Courtauld Gallery, London. In both Smoker paintings, Cezanne gives Paulin and 'le pere Alexandre' the same blank expression. As a result it is impossible to say know if they are wise or merely vacant. Whatever the case, their immobility and their lack of expression imparts a timeless, tranquil quality to these compositions, no doubt reflecting the unvarying routines of provincial life.

Cezanne's series of paintings of The Smokers and The Card Players, as well as The Large Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) (1894-1905, London and Philadelphia), had a significant impact on a number of modern artists, during the early 20th century. For example, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) used them as inspiration for his Cubism, as well as his contribution to the Classical Revival in the 1920s, as also did Fernand Leger (1881-1955).

NOTE: For other important Impressionist paintings by Cezanne, see: The House of the Hanged Man (1873); The Bridge at Maincy (1879); and the Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings (1882-1906).

Explanation 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) By Manet.

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

Absinthe (1876) Musee d'Orsay. By Edgar Degas.

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

NOTE: For the full story behind French Impressionism and the painters who invented it, see our 10-part series, beginning with: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.


• For an explanation of other Impressionist figurative paintings, see: Homepage.

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