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This is one of the lesser known paintings in a series of four oil-on-canvases by Cezanne. Each depicts a boy wearing the same traditional Italian attire: a red waistcoat, white shirt, and brown trousers.
The only thing that changes from portrait to portrait is the boy's position. In one, he sits slouched in profile, staring ahead with unfocused eyes; another is a closer, head-on study from the waist up.
The most famous of the series shows the boy sitting with his head resting on his hand. It was famously stolen in 2008, before being recovered in Serbia and sent back to Zurich, where it still resides today.
As it is the best known of the four, when art lovers speak of the Boy in a Red Vest, it is most likely this one they refer to. Nevertheless, each one of the portraits is much replicated, and much loved, in its own right.
The version shown here, painted in the early to mid 1890s, is the only one in which the boy is standing. Arguably, this is the most relaxed of all the poses. The other paintings depict a pensive and almost gloomy boy, whereas the hand-on-hip stance implies insolence and mischief. The expression on his face, though, remains reminiscent of his previous incarnations.
The downcast eyes still suggest a boy lost in his own thoughts. The dark colours and the background of heavy, shadowy curtains also convey a sombre mood. Indeed, it was the 1890s onward that Cezanne endured his most troubled times. Diabetes began to affect all aspects of his life, including his relationships with people, and during the 90s he withdrew further and further into his work, at times almost becoming a recluse.
Along with the posture, there is another small difference between this portrait and the other three: in this one, the boy is wearing a hat, hinting at a world outside his room. He is surely just about to go out, or has just returned from somewhere. As the boy is only ever depicted alone, and without any wider surroundings that would give clues about his life, where he might be going, and who with, will have to stay a mystery.