A Modern(ist) Love Story, 2014
video performance, digital SLR, 4:37
This work is the result of a collaboration with writer LeeAnn Thomas, interpreted from her prose piece Madame Cézanne’s smile, a modern love story. Devine's shared interest with Thomas in the unknowable life of Marie-Hortense Fiquet Cézanne, wife of the modernist painter Paul Cézanne, led to art historical inquiry into the subject.
Madame Cézanne’s character, class status, and relevancy to her husband are famously attacked in accounts by Cézanne’s friends. Art historians thereby have treated her with equal dismissal and contempt. However, Cézanne’s biography is rife with incomplete and conflicting information, and there are virtually no textual records for his wife aside from basic dates of birth, marriage, and death. No letters from Cézanne to his wife survive. All we know of her is that her trade was bookbinding, ironically portending the patriarchal literature that would later disavow her. The only quoted assessment of her by her husband, and one that is coolly reductive, is that she “loved lemonade and Switzerland.”
The push-pull dynamics of Cézanne's abstraction, in all his portraits, reveal his legendarily difficult temperament and anxiety over human contact, which he both craved and resisted. In painting her image, Cézanne held his wife at arm's length, fixing her at a reassuring distance while holding her close enough to observe exhaustively for hours. To think of the images of Madame Cézanne as "inexpressive" (the adjective most often applied to them), is to profoundly misunderstand them, because they reveal both how Cézanne encountered his world psychologically and her own dedication to her husband's craft.