Cézanne spent July and August of 1896 with his wife and son at the Hôtel de l’Abbaye at Talloires, a resort on the Lac d’Annecy near Geneva. This was his second summer in French Switzerland. The principal result of his two-month sojourn was the large and celebrated oil painting ‘Lac d’Annecy’, now in the Courtauld Gallery, London. In addition to this painting, Cézanne executed a series of works on paper depicting the lake but seemed unable to finish indoors the sketches he had made outside. His rooms at the hotel apparently consisted of former monks’ cells, which neither looked out on the lake nor provided comfortable working conditions.
Perhaps his most successful works of that summer were a charming and tender group of two paintings and four drawings and watercolors depicting a small boy wearing a straw hat. The boy in the straw hat has been traditionally regarded as the son of a Monsieur Vallet, one of the gardeners at the hotel. Yet, the identity of the boy is not known for certain and the precise location of these works also remains unconfirmed. However, both of these watercolours have sketches of the lake on the reverse, seemingly confirming they were completed that same summer. The very recent discovery of a pencil sketch of the lake on verso of the present watercolour further corroborates this theory.
In his catalogue raisonné of the watercolours John Rewald writes: “It does not appear impossible that the artist befriended the boy while working on a motif and used the opportunity for various rapid studies, none of them carried very far. But with mist frequently descending upon the lake region and preventing Cézanne from working outside, he may have arranged to paint the boy in his room, if only, as he said, to ‘relieve his boredom’”.
In the oil painting 'L’Enfant au chapeau de paille', finalised the same year as the watercolour and in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum, the boy is seated in an interior. Whereas another painting of the same title but from 1902, at the Menard Art Museum, Komaki, Japan, is more closely related to the present watercolor since both appear to be executed outdoors.
In 'L’Enfant au chapeau de paille' Cézanne has outlined the young boy with deft strokes of graphite and enlivened his subject with delicate washes of greens and blue. The thin diagonal branch of a tree draws the viewer’s eye to the child’s wide-eyed and innocent face, enhancing the overall tenderness and sincerity of the image.
In 1907 Ambroise Vollard and Galerie Bernheim-Jeune - which at the time was under the direction of Felix Fénéon – purchased one hundred and eighty seven of Cézanne’s works on paper from his estate. One such work was 'L’Enfant au Chapeau de Paille'. Vollard and Bernheim-Jeune divided the works equally, with the present watercolour entering Vollard’s possession. Vollard’s signature and the numbering ‘1’ on the back indicate that this was the first piece in his collection. The work later entered the collection of Jos Hessel, renowned dealer and previous director of Bernheim-Jeune, and Kate Perls, who ran Perls Gallery, the primary dealership for Dufy, Soutine and Vlaminck.
Estate of Paul Cézanne
Ambroise Vollard, Paris Ambroise Vollard, Paris (signed and numbered ‘1’, acquired from the
above March 1907)
Jos. Hessel, Paris, 1913 (stock no. 19871)
Käte Perls, Paris, c. 1930
Knoedler & Co., New York, 1937 (stock no. WCA671)
W.H. Harkness, New York, 1938
Private Collection (by
descent from the above)
Pigalle, Exposition Cézanne, 1839-1906: Quelques souvenirs, 4 January – 7 February 1930, no.27 (exhibition catalogue ed. 1929)
(lent by J. Hessel, as Le petit garçon with wrong
New York, Valentine (Dudensing) Gallery, Cézanne watercolors, Renoir Drawings, 4 - 30 January 1937, no.28 (as Tête de garçon)
Tristan Bernard, 'Jos. Hessel', La
Renaissance 3, no.1, January 1930, p.14, illus.
Lionello Venturi, Cézanne : Son
Art, Son Œuvre, Editions Paul Rosenberg, Paris, 1936, no. 1098, ill.,
Art News, Jan. 16, 1937, p.17, illus.
John Rewald, Paul Cézanne: The Watercolors:
A Catalogue Raisonné, London, Thames & Hudson, 1983, no.480, p.203, illus.
Walter Feilchenfeldt, Jayne Warman, and David Nash. L'enfant
au chapeau de paille, 1896 (FWN 1769)", The Paintings,
Watercolors and Drawings of Paul Cezanne: An Online Catalogue Raisonné, http://cezannecatalogue.com/catalogue/entry.php?id=663