The Luncheon on the Grass

This small, dense composition depicts a luncheon scene between young people in nature. The scene takes place in a village whose bell tower can be seen in the painting. The people are spread out on either side on a vertical axis delineated here by the female figure located in the centre, whose silhouette is elongated by the church spire. The simplification of forms and the directional brushwork partially interfere with our understanding of this scene. Though we can see a recollection of Cézanne's admiration for Poussin's (1594-1665) Bacchanalias that he copied at the Louvre, we can just as easily see one of the painter's happy childhood memories in the countryside of Aix, faithful to the stories told about it by writer Emile Zola (1840-1902) who had the chance to spend time with him. Cézanne cannot be credited with the title with certitude, and it could have been given at a later date. Nonetheless, if the painter is shown to have provided it, we could take it to be a humorous citation of Manet's (1832-1883) famous painting conserved at the Musée d'Orsay. Both men did indeed show their works at the Salon des Refusés in 1863 when Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe [The Luncheon on the Grass] created a scandal. In that case, the painting would create a playful precedent from Cézanne to Manet, who had painted une moderne Olympia [A Modern Olympia] as an echo to Manet's famous Olympia (Musée d’Orsay), one version in 1870 then in a version dating to between 1873-1874 conserved at the Musée d'Orsay.

Provenance: E. Fabbri, Florence; P. Rosenberg, Paris; Domenica Walter