The son of a banker, Cézanne studied law in Aix, but after seeing the classical works in the Louvre, as well as the work of Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) and Édouard Manet (1832–1883), he decided to dedicate himself to painting. Until the 1880s, his production possessed romantic lines, inspired, above all, by the lyricism and pictorial technique of Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), an artist he studied all his life. For much of his career, Cézanne was much admired by a small group of young artists, even though he was unrecognized by the public and rejected at the official exhibitions. From 1899 until after his death, however, interest in his work grew, and he is now considered a cornerstone for the development of modern art. The model for Scipiowas one of the few black professionals in the studios of Paris. Interpreters of the work associate it to the abolitionist debates of the second half of the 19th century and compare it to the well-known American photograph The Scourged Back (1863), in which the slave Gordon appears in a similar position, with whiplash scars. Thus, the rhythm of the brushstrokes and the tones take on new meanings—they recall the cuts in the flesh. This work documents an intense dialogue between modern art and the social conflicts of the era. The canvas was part of the personal collection of Claude Monet (1840–1926).
By Luciano Migliaccio
Many authors have dated this painting 1865 or 1866, based on the fact that Scipio, a professional model, posed for artists at the Académie Suisse where Cézanne enrolled in 1865. However, the artist attended that school until 1869. Following Venturi, Camesasca (1988, p. 102) dated the picture 1866-1868 and pointed out similarities in style with The Abduction, painted by the artist in 1867, with Scipio himself as model. Venturi (1936, p. 88) sees the painting in the Masp Collection as the masterpiece of Cézanne’s initial phase. It was acquired by Claude Monet, in whose private collection it remained until his son, Michel, sold The Negro Scipioto Masp.