National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Annual Bulletin 7, 1983-1984

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The Influence of Cézanne on Adrien Hébert

by Jean-René Ostiguy

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The strongest resemblance to the work of Cézanne is found in Hébert's small landscape of Ile Bélair. In Robert Mortier's phrase, Hébert "perceived objects as having solid integrity and weight." He endowed tree trunks and branches with gnarled, shifting contours, highlighting their definition in terms of volume. He narrowed the gap between trees and buildings, between branches and foliage; even the spaces seem full. Hébert here has clearly departed from the traditional illusionist perspective. At the extreme right of the painting, the white wall of the studio seems to be on a different plane in space, depending on whether one looks at the portion of the painting to the left or to the right of the monumental tree that divides it in two. Thus, the two planes are joined along vertical lines that are traced by the tree trunks. The bright, bold hues of the reddish, rust-coloured and grey-pink rooftops contrast with the dominant shades of green in this rhythmic composition, which is infused with a "savage poetry," accented by the same greenish ochres that are found in several of Cézanne's forest interiors, such as the Château Noir (1894-1986, O. Reinhart Collection, Winterthur) and Farm in Normandy: The Orchard (1880-1886, Abercomway Collection, London ). L'Enclos, Ile Bélair was painted after the manner and in the spirit of Cézanne.

Despite its grey sky, Boathouse (fig. 4) also evokes Cézanne's work. The tree-bordered laneway, leading to a building and a forest within a vertical rectangle, recalls certain views of the Chantilly forest, especially the one reproduced on page 261 of the December 1920 issue of L'Amour de l'Art. The slanting strokes and the outline of the last tree on the left reinforce our sense of a space that Cézanne might have created. Nowhere else but in Cézanne's work do we find similar stylizations that synthesize the light, supple volume of foliage. Hébert was not always this successful in 1921. He leaned toward Fauvist effects that recall André Derain's work, as in Yvonne Hébert on Ile Bélair (fig. 5), or painted in the style of Maurice de Vlaminck, as in Icehouse and Shed (fig. 6). No specific influence can be seen in Standing Nude (fig. 7), unless we compare it to a large painting ( now lost) of bathers - one of Cézanne's favourite subjects - of which we get a very vague glimpse in an archival photograph (fig. 8). The Portrait of Dr Léo Pariseau (fig. 9) recalls, in more muted tones, the head of Paul Alexis in the Reading at Zola's House (1869-1870, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Brazil). The work is not dated, but its owner suggests that it could have been painted in 1924. (10) Nevertheless, it may have been done three years earlier. The art critic for La Presse, reviewing an exhibition of Hébert's work at the Cercle universitaire in Montreal, mentions a portrait. (11) The portrait of Léo Pariseau is very dark in colour, and the critic notes that the numerous landscapes in the exhibition include several "night landscapes." These and the portrait of Léo Pariseau may be Hébert's way of paying homage to Cézanne's "dark" period.

Adrian Hébert's other known paintings whose form and technique remind us of Cézanne were all completed in France after 1922. Did the artist take advantage of his fifteen-month visit to study Cézanne's work more closely? He undoubtedly did, but he was aided by the approach of a French artist of his own generation, André Favory, who had been drawn to Cézanne ten years earlier, but had since distanced himself considerably from the master.

On 8 June 1922, Adrien Hébert left New York for Le Havre with Fernand Préfontaine, who had returned briefly to Canada six months earlier. (12) Adrien stayed at his friend's home at 7 rue des Eaux in Passy. Préfontaine clearly lost no time in introducing Hébert to his artistic acquaintances. On 15 November, Préfontaine wrote to Pauline Rolland, saying that André Favory had been to see Hébert and had complimented hill on his work. Favory undoubtedly looked at the landscapes that Hébert had painted during his recent trip to Issoire and Puy-en-Velay with Préfontaine. Landscape at Vals-les-Bains (fig. 10) and Landscape in Ardèche (fig. 11) were probably among the group of canvases assembled for the occasion. Elements reminiscent of Cézanne - composition schemes, colour combinations and typical solutions to problems with the spacing of planes - are here highly coloured by the classical taste that André Derain, Othon Firesz (13) and later André Favory added to their borrowings from Cézanne. Yet it is not possible to form a definitive judgment about Favory's influence on these two landscapes; a larger number of works of this type would have to be found. Moreover, too little is known about the other influences that came into play during Hébert's stay in Paris. How, for example, are we to interpret a visit the two friends paid to Robert Mortier? (14) Further, it is impossible to deduce why Robert de Roquebrune, a former contributor to Le Nigog, did not mention his friend Hébert's visit to Paris, while he saw Metzinger and other painters coming under Cézanne's spell during that period. (15) Jean Marchand (1883-1940), a former Cubist, was among Metzinger's acquaintances: art critics paid a great deal of attention to his nudes and portraits at the Salons d'Automne of 1921 and 1922. (16) Did he inspire Hébert's Seated Nude (c. 1922), National Gallery of Canada? It resembles his work as much as that of Favory.

The development of Adrien Hébert's artistic vision, amid the kaleidoscope of influences to which he was subjected, became more defined in the numerous portraits he completed in 1923. Six of them are known to us, primarily through photographs. They were preceded by the portrait of Fernand Préfontaine (fig. 12), which he painted in 1922; its energy and rounded forms clearly show Favory's influence. In his portraits of Marcel Dugas (fig.13) and Pierre Dupuy (c. 1923, Michel Dupuy Collection, Paris), Hébert places his figures against dark backgrounds and, like Cézanne during his romantic period, emphasizes reliefs by using thick and brightly coloured impastos. (17) The portrait of Léo-Pol Morin (c. 1923, Musée du Québec) shows the artist returning to the manner of Henry Moret. Those of Robert de Roquebrune (fig. 14) and Rodolphe Mathieu use thin layers of paint; in the former portrait, there seems to be a clear distinction among the various tones, as though the artist had taken pleasure in long reflection before making each brushstroke.

The last portrait, of the artist himself (fig. 15), is the masterpiece of the group; it prompted him to write to his mother on 20 May, mischievously and irreverently, "I am sending you the portrait of a handsome Christ, painted by His own hands." (18) The head and shoulders of the bearded young artist at the age of thirty-three is seen in three-quarter profile within the painting's vertical rectangle, as in Cézanne's Self-Portrait (1877) in the Philipps Collection in Washington. Behind him, slantwise, is an unfinished canvas, whose right-hand side displays two barely sketched nudes, one of them holding a pipe to his lips. This, no doubt, is the Bacchanal (another of Cézanne's favourite subjects), which we know from a small photograph (fig. 16) in Fernand Préfontaine's photo album. Bold, slanting strokes follow the lapel of Hébert's suit downward from his right shoulder, and are repeated in the broad foliage designs, achieved by rather short, close hatchings. These brushstrokes were not made lightly. They recall the strokes Cézanne frequently used in his landscapes of Auvers and Pontoise in 1877. The right-hand side of the figure repeats the same oblique strokes, sometimes crossed by shorter ones going in the opposite direction.

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