Cezanne and Provence

The next in my 2018 European holiday series 

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It may seem small thing, but today included a bucket list event.

On the  bus heading towards Arles where I was to join the cruise we drove past Mount Sainte-Victoire, which Cezanne painted so many times. The bus also stopped  for a rest break where the mountain was still in full sight, so I had the opportunity to take a number of photos, even though it was interesting trying to block out the various signs and structures of the petrol station and I’ve used my iPad to take the pics!

Cezanne is one of my favourite artists because  he was so inspired, and his experiments with shape, form and colour significantly influenced the Modern artists and art styles to follow.  I don’t think that pictures of his work really do him justice, but if you have ever seen his work in the gallery you can see the depth and the relationships between colour and form in a way that will give you many ‘aha’ moments.

In the catalogue for the 1910 London exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists, the art critic and curator Roger Fry wrote that Cézanne ‘showed how it was possible to pass from the complexity of the appearance of things to the geometrical simplicity which design demands’.

So whilst Cézanne focused mainly on the landscape around his home town, he turns this landscape into a study of form and colour.

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Whereas the Impressionists painted with thick, short brushstrokes, shimmering colours and no outlines, Cézanne used blocks of strong colour, prominently outlining forms such as the tree trunk and the fields in dark blue.

His interest in form and line is emphasised in the shape of the branches and the way in which they perfectly echo the outline of the mountain behind.

Cézanne’s simplification of the landscape could be interpreted as a return to an era of balanced, harmonious form rather than complex ornamentation, as well as a leap towards Modernism: the structured parallel brushstrokes that fragment the surface of the composition, as well as the bold colours, appealed to younger artists and paved the way towards abstraction. (source: Courtauld  Museum)

Rising to 1011 metres, the massive limestone peak of Mount Sainte-Victoire dominates the countryside around Aix, and the oeuvre of Cézanne.

The artist produced at least thirty canvases and many watercolours, unifying the forms and rhythms of the landscape with short diagonal brushstrokes and patches of colour. In his vast panoramas of the early 1880s he contrasts the mountain and foreground vegetation, exploring ways for Mount Sainte-Victoire to become the compositional focus. In later works, the mountain dominates the entire scene, often merging into the sky. By limiting his palette to greens, blues, grey-violet and cream, Cézanne emphasises the grandeur and gravity of the landscape.

Despite the artist’s constant moves—he only settled permanently in Aix in 1897—and the difficulty of dating many works, Mount Sainte-Victoire imposes a geological consistency and series-like fidelity on Cézanne’s oeuvre. In this painting and others of the first series—Mount Sainte-Victoire and the viaduct of the Arc Valley 1882–85 (p.37) and Mount Sainte-Victoire with large pine c. 1887 being two of the most famous—Cézanne shows details of his sister- and brother-in-law’s property, the walls, fields and neighbouring farmhouses, the Arc River and railway viaduct. He uses the architectural elements to enhance the landscape, as though to ‘contrast the wayward and irregular forms of the natural world with the more orderly geometric shapes of man’s own devising’. By changing his position slightly, Cézanne creates subtle variations in the geometric relationship between the landscape and built environment.

In the early paintings, Cézanne employs trees to frame or interrupt his composition; later, as he ‘subtracts’ these elements, the relationship between mountain and its surrounds is examined in other ways. The wall in the extreme foreground of this painting is a traditional repoussoir device, framing the composition and providing an entrée for the viewer; it forms a parallel with the aqueduct in the valley below, and counterpoint to the pyramid-like mountain. The corner of the wall also announces the point at which the foliage sweeps back, like imaginary theatre curtains, to reveal the grandeur of Mount Sainte-Victoire beyond. Rather than applying the same cross-hatching technique to the whole canvas, as he does in the later series, Cézanne adjusts the direction of his brushstrokes to his forms. The canvas is visible between the spare, quickly worked brushwork. As the artist wrote to his first biographer, Joachim Gasquet:

the blue smell of the pines … must be married to the green smell of the plains which are refreshed every morning, with the smell of stones, the perfume of distant marble from Sainte-Victoire. I have not expressed it. It must be done. And by colours, not literature.

Source : Lucinda Ward  National Gallery of Australia, (NGA)Canberra 2009


And to finish this post, some more pics of our bus trip (still taken on iPad from the window on the bus) and a photo of an amazing sunset, taken on the boat on the first evening – what a great start, and great to meet other passengers including two sisters, also from Australia, in the room next door.

 

One thought on “Cezanne and Provence

  1. Roy Forward July 18, 2018 / 8:11 pm

    Hi Andrea, How wonderful to have such dreamy photos next to the paintings, making both more real than ever.

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