Paul Mathey (1844-1929)
Woman and Child in an Interior
Oil on canvas
H. 48; W. 38 cm
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
In this painting, the composition uses successive planes to lead the eye through the interior of the apartment and out into the street. In fact, the right hand side is entirely separated by a vertical section of wall against which leans the artist’s only son, Jacques (1883-1975), who would later become an art historian and a specialist in the work of Edouard Manet. His face stands out against a floral wallpaper, the only frivolous note in this very sober environment. It is the impassive expression of this child, as he stares out towards the spectator, that accentuates the strange atmosphere permeating this whole scene, where each character seems isolated in his or her own space.
With this technique of spatial gradation, moving progressively into the distance, the artist sets out the three ages of man: the youth of the child, the maturity of the wife and the old age of the servant. This construction gives his painting an allegorical or symbolic aspect beneath the primary evocation of family life.