I was given an incredibly thoughtful gift from my partner for Valentine’s Day — a captivating self-portrait
by Cezanne, circa 1879. It seems to me magnificently thoughtful because, while I have elaborated in great detail my adoration of Cezanne’s works, I would never have thought to purchase this particular self-portrait myself, but she recalled how years ago we visited the Phillips Collection in D.C. and how I had marveled at this particular painting for a great deal of time. Allowing time for a work of art to speak is a necessity to me (more than one person has complained about the time it takes me to visit a gallery), but I wouldn’t have thought that I’d spend more time with a Cezanne self-portrait than one of his landscapes, of which there are phenomenal ones at the Phillips. But that is the curious irony of my narrative involving this self-portrait. Self-portraits, to me, are expressions of one’s feelings about personal identity and self-knowledge in a select period of time. In an important way, they push the artist to overcome the yawning chasm in their self-knowledge that is how others view them, important because it has normative consequences for rationalizing why other persons treat them in certain ways and how they are to respond to those actions. The irony of my relationship with this self-portrait is that despite my pontificating that I most admire Cezanne’s landscapes, I might, without my awareness of this fact, hold his self-portrait in higher regard, given my observed actions and comments in its presence. Self-knowledge is an elusive thing.