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The wife of the artist Paul Cézanne often sat for him, as his hesitant manner of working required great patience during portrait sessions. In her right hand, Madame Cézanne is holding a folded fan. Her dress, grey with black ribbons, goes with the colours of the flowered wallpaper in the background. The portrait in the Bührle Collection was initially painted in the couples Paris apartment, but it was reworked ten years later by the artist. That was when the face acquired its striking, mask-like stiffness, with the dark eyes looking as if they were cut into it.
The painting became part of Emil Bührles collection in 1952. By then, it had already acquired quite a history of its own, of interest to students of the reception of modern French art. This was mainly due to the fact that from 1904 to 1943 it was owned by the American writer Gertrude Stein, who together with her brother Leo kept a well-frequented studio in Paris. It was there that her friend Pablo Picasso saw the picture of Madame Cézanne, on which he based his own portrait of Gertrude Stein, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Cézanne's painting appears in many photos of the Paris apartments that Gertrude Stein lived in over the years.
The purchase of Madame Cézanne's portrait by Leo and Gertrude Stein soon after 1900 was an act of recognition of the artistic avant-garde of that time. The purchase of the same portrait fifty years later by Emil Bührle was an acknowledgement of the avant-garde of a past age, whose significance had since been established. In turn, the painting defines the position of the Bührle Collection in the history of art collecting in the twentieth century.