This particular double portrait is sometimes known under the alternative name of Paul Alexis Reading a Manuscript to Zola. Cezanne himself would also create another portrait of the two together, with that piece known as Paul Alexis Reading at Zola's House. Writers and painters during the 19th century were regularly seen together and those from the visual arts would regularly call upon different passages of literature to inspire new paintings. Zole was well known to many French artists besides Cezanne, including Renoir, and they would be able to share ideas just as the Impressionists would do amongst themselves. Alexis was not as famous as Zola, nor the painters whose company he kept, and today he is often mentioned whilst discussing portraits such as this or whilst focusing on the key friends held by the better known Zola. Both of the portraits by Cezanne feature Alexis reading directly to Zola which perhaps gives an indication of the power balance within their friendship.
Looking at the composition itself, we find Alexis sat on a small metal chair whilst dressed fairly smartly. He had a solid looking coat in dark tones which suggests that they may be sitting outdoors, or perhaps are in the winter season. He looks down towards some papers from which he reads. His friend, Zola, is wearing white attire and sits upon a light coloured cloth. His posture feel appropriate for someone from the creative industry, unwilling to conform to normal expectations. His friend is entirely comfortable with that and together they share some time, expressing ideas and perhaps reviewing one of their own pieces of work. They are upon a fairly grey, non-descript ground, with a window behind Zola at the back of the painting. We also see the attractive shutter design which remains common throughout rural France.
This painting is dated at around 1869-1870 and it was shortly after this that the artist, Cezanne, reduced the amount of time that he shared in this manner and retreated to the French countryside where he worked alone. This painting is sized at 160cm wide by 130cm tall and can now be found within the permanent collection of the São Paulo Museum of Art, making it a rare Cezanne artwork to be found within Brazil. It was included within a recent catalogue raisonne of the artist's entire career, confirming its attribution and also adding more information to a piece that sometimes is not discussed because of its location outside either Europe or the US. The artistic qualities as well as the importance of the two people pictured mean that Paul Alexis Reading to Emile Zola is still a highly significant artwork.