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Afternoon in Naples, Oil by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906, France)
The woman’s arm rests sensually on the man’s back, echoed in the outlines of her knee and feet just touching the servant’s arm and legs, and even in the way the edge of the tray just tips the corner of the cupboard. The angles of the servant’s arms repeat those of the window, cupboard, mirror and the couple’s arms. The great flurry of bodies, sheets, loincloth and curtain all flare up out of the cluster of feet in the bottom left corner.
When he painted this work Paul Cézanne had just returned from two years of painting with the Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro, but Cézanne’s technique had nothing to do with capturing the play of light. By laying down patches of often bright colours in short brushstrokes, he evoked the substance of underlying forms, and produced an overall merging of background and subject.
As though on a stage, the servant pulls back a curtain to reveal a most intimate moment. Although Cézanne never visited Italy, the scene may reflect French stereotypes of that country, or relate to happy times with Hortense (whom he later married) and the birth of their baby in 1872. This is probably the last painting in a series of over 20 drawings and paintings Cézanne made on this theme between 1862 and 1879.