Young Italian Woman Leaning on her Elbow (1900) by Cezanne
Interpretation of Classical Figure Painting

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Young Italian Woman Leaning
on her Elbow
By Paul Cezanne.
Regarded as one of the
greatest 20th century paintings,
in the classical revival style.

Young Italian Woman Leaning on her Elbow (1900)


Analysis of Young Italian Woman Leaning on her Elbow
Explanation of Other Modern Paintings


Name: Young Italian Woman Leaning on her Elbow (1900)
Artist: Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Portrait art
Movement: Post-Impressionism
Location: J. Paul Getty Museum

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

For analysis of paintings by
Post-Impressionist painters
like Cezanne, see:
How to Appreciate Paintings.


For the advocates of the Classical Revival (c.1900-30), as well as those who championed Cubism, Cezanne was the perfect authority, not least because the main concern of his post-Impressionist painting was with structure and with classicist forms. Rejecting all types of Impressionism, he sought instead to create his own personal style of classicism, in which harmony and balance combined with timeless grandeur to produce an enduring synthesis of nature and art. As he said: "Let us read nature; let us realise our sensations in an aesthetic that is at once personal and traditional." His three monumental Large Bathers (1894-1906) in the National Gallery London, the Philadelphia Museum, and the Barnes Foundation - his famous depictions of female nudes in a landscape setting - are his best-known 'classical' works, but his lesser-known portrayal of a Young Italian Woman Leaning on her Elbow was also influential.

Analysis of Young Italian Woman Leaning on her Elbow by Cezanne

Young Italian Woman is typical of Cezanne's late style of figure painting, possessing the profoundly meditative silence and stillness of such great contemporary works as Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1899, Musee du Petit Palais, Paris) and Woman in Blue (1892-6, Hermitage Museum, Leningrad). Although the girl stares blankly into space, and we are offered nothing which might give a clue to the nature of her thoughts, it is difficult not to read her mood as melancholy, and not to see some resemblance between her and the boy who appears to be musing on mortality in Young Man with a Skull (1896-8, Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania). However, the absence of any symbol or anecdotal detail, and the indeterminate nature of the girl's dress - certainly not contemporary fashion, but not unequivocally a folk costume either - serve to establish a completely timeless, completely generalised ambience, for which the abstraction of her thoughts is an equivalent. Oppositions of dark and light, of warm and cool colours, of patterned and plain surfaces, are perfectly weighted and reconciled. This harmony, the restraint and dignity of the painting and its gravitas, are felt instinctively as 'classical', and it is possible that Cezanne had been influenced by Roman frescoes, as well as by mournful, pensive or resting women painted by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), Jan Vermeer (1632-75) or Camille Corot (1796-1875).



Although there is no record of this picture having been exhibited or reproduced before the late 1920s, it is exactly the kind of Cezanne which was admired by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Andre Derain (1880-1954), Picasso (1881-1973) and their contemporaries before and after the First World War. Parallels could be drawn with, for example, Matisse's Italian Woman (1916, Guggenheim, New York) and Derain's The Italian Model (1921-2, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). It may well be that Picasso saw the picture in the gallery of Ambroise Vollard and that it influenced certain paintings of the latter part of 1906, but the depth and heaviness of mood is also echoed in the gloomy inertia in some of his post-war paintings, such as Seated Woman (Picasso) (1920).

Explanation of Other Modern Paintings

Here is a short selection of works completed during the classical "Call to Order" (1900-30).


Large Bather (Picasso) (1921)
Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris.

Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) (1922)
Musee Picasso, Paris.


The Uncertainty of the Poet (1913)
Tate Collection, London.

Song of Love (1914)
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (1914)
Private Collection.


Soldiers Playing at Cards (1917)
Kroller-Muller State Museum, Otterlo.

The Mechanic (1920)
National Gallery of Canada.

Three Women (Le Grand Dejeuner) (1921)
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Nudes against a Red Background (1923)
Kunstmuseum, Basel.


• For the meaning of other post-Impressionist paintings, see: Homepage.

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