In both versions Cezanne would capture Zola in white robes, with more formal clothing in the painting in front of us here. It would always be him being read to by his friend, rather than the other way, and this perhaps tells us about the balance of their friendship as well as the reality that Zola was the more respected and famous writer. In the late 19th century painters and writers would regularly spend time together, sharing ideas which could potentially cross over in each other's discipline. Cezanne himself would soon decide to stop doing this, though, and after many years of collaborating he chose to spend more time working by himself in the countryside. At the point at which he produced this painting, though, he was still very much on good terms with a number of painters and writers. His decision to separate himself would be a good one, and allowed him to forge a more unique artistic approach in the years that followed.
Paul Alexis Reading to Emile Zola was the alternative piece and features a more informal surroundings. That too is dated at around the same period. Within the alternative piece displayed in this page, we find the two figures within a smart, tidy room which features a painting hanging on the wall. A curtain comes in from the left hand side which allows the artist to frame the composition. Shadows are fairly strong in this work and it may have been a room which only had natural light from a single window to our left hand side. It would be later on that Cezanne started to use incredibly subtle and complex arrangements of tone which produced stunning finishes to real life objects and by 1870 was still very much under the influence of the Impressionists, whom be both admired and was happy to learn from.
This painting, which resides within a private collection, tells us more about the close friendship between these two writers as well as underlining how Cezanne was well known to a good number of creatives at that time in his career. Whilst these two paintings may not be as famous as the likes of Pierrot and Harlequin, Portrait of Madame Cezanne with Loosened Hair and The Blue Vase, they still offer something extra to the diverse offering left behind by Cezanne. He is rightly still regarded as one of the most influential and talented painters from the 19th century and can be considered one of the most famous French artists of all time, with valuations of his work continue to rise each and every year.