Dr Otto Wertheimer, Paris
Robert von Hirsch, Basel (sold: Sotheby's, London, The Robert von Hirsch Collection, 27th June 1978, lot 835)
The British Rail Pension Fund (sold: Sotheby’s, London, The Property of the British Rail Pension Fund, 4th April 1989, lot 18)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Paul Cézanne, 1956, no. 141 (titled Badende Frauen and as dating from 1900-06)
Tübingen, Kunsthalle & Zurich, Kunsthaus, Paul Cézanne Aquarelle 1866-1906, 1982, no. 118, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Baigneuses)
Hamilton, The Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University; Austin, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, The University of Texas & Palm Beach, The Society of the Four Arts, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Works from a British Collection, 1986-87, no. 6, illustrated in the catalogue
Norwich, Castle Museum, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Works from a British Collection, 1987, no. 15 (titled Baigneuses)
Basel, Museum of Fine Arts, Paul Cézanne: The Bathers, 1989, no. 92, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Baigneuses devant une montagne)
Lionello Venturi, 'Sur les dernières années de Cézanne’, in Minotaure, no. 9, Paris, 1936, illustrated fig. 12
Jean Cassou, Cézanne: Les Baigneuses, Paris, 1947, illustrated in colour
Francis Jourdain, Cézanne, Paris, 1950, illustrated in colour (titled Baigneuses and as dating from 1900-06)
Melvin Waldfogel, 'A Problem in Cézanne's Grandes Baigneuses’, in The Burlington Magazine, London, May 1962, illustrated fig. 37
Kurt Badt, Das Spätwerk Cézannes, Constance, 1971, fig. 14, illustrated p. 49
William Rubin, Cézanne - the Late Work, London, 1978, mentioned p. 399
John Rewald, Paul Cézanne. The Watercolours, A Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1983, no. 607, illustrated (titled Baigneuses devant une montagne)
Matthew Simms, Cézanne's Watercolors: Between Drawing and Painting, New Haven & London, 2008, no. 132, illustrated in colour p. 181 (titled Bathers and as dating from 1894-1906)
The present work is a particularly beautiful example of his watercolour studies for the later Baigneuses and illustrates his total mastery of the medium. As Mary T. Lewis writes: ‘Among such later versions, [the present work] is one of his most richly composed. Three distinct groups of nudes, the smallest in number in the centre, are harmoniously placed within a landscape that enhances their tripartite arrangement. The strong diagonal of the intensely blue river in the foreground corresponds to the distant line of the mountain [...]. The colour of this small Bathers is rich and continuous, and allows nature to embrace the nudes fully. Figures, water, trees and mountain all glow with a radiant blue which at times merges with yellow to suggest a soft green’ (M. T. Lewis in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Works from a British Collection (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 36).
Throughout his career Cézanne had used watercolours as a means of thinking through and exploring ideas for larger-scale oil compositions. The present work relates closely to one of the three late Grandes baigneuses that Cézanne was working on at the time of his death, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and provides an insight into Cézanne’s working practices. Whilst the oil shows the same triangular orchestration, in the watercolour Cézanne introduces a third group of figures in the centre of the composition and significantly, the recognisable outline of Saint-Victoire in the distance.
The extent to which the watercolour differs from the oil suggests not only that Cézanne used the medium as a means of exploring compositional variations but also that he rejoiced in it for its own inherent qualities and the freedom of expression it allowed him. In comparison to the static monumentality of the oil, the present work, although rigorously conceived, is characterised by an immediacy and energy. As Matthew Simms explains: ‘This lively, gestural handling [...] was as much a means for Cézanne to render a sense of the dramatic action taking place in his depicted scenarios as it was a means for him to register his own emotional participation in the subject matter. If Cézanne’s handling in his watercolour sketches for the large bathers [...] calls to mind this kind of emotional participation, it also reflects more recent concerns developed in his contemporaneous watercolour views of landscape and still life. In these contemporary watercolours, Cézanne sought to render the visual sensations of vibrant light and air in the south of France. Although based on imagination rather than observation, Cézanne invokes in these bather sketches a similar quality of shimmering light and air. More than this, he also adds to the vibrant envelope a quality of vital movement that sets these watercolours off from his contemporary landscape and still-life watercolours’ (M. Simms, op. cit., pp. 182-183). The deft application of paint in vivid tones of blue and green and the lively interplay of forms create a work of particular vivacity. Simms goes on: ‘In comparison with similar oil versions, this work seems more animated and flowing perhaps because the entire process of its making is retained in each transparent touch of pigment’ (ibid., p. 36).
The legacy of these watercolours – and the late Baigneuses paintings as a whole – was far-reaching. Celebrated when they were first exhibited by Ambroise Vollard in 1905, they inspired a subsequent generation of artists who saw a new world of possibility in their innovative use of space and light. An integral chapter in the history of the birth of Cubism, they paved the way for many of the key developments of twentieth century art.
Baigneuses, La Montagne Saint-Victoire au fond has so far belonged to two preeminent collections. One of its early owners was legendary collector Robert von Hirsch. Von Hirsch amassed one of the most significant collections of the early twentieth century encompassing not only Impressionist and Modern paintings, but also Old Master paintings, Medieval and Renaissance works of art and furniture; of all of these his collection of Cézanne watercolours is reported to have provided him with the greatest joy. The present watercolour was among the works sold at his estate sale at Sotheby’s London in 1978 and it was at the time of this sale that the pencil sketch on the verso was discovered. It was at this point that it joined its second great collection – the British Rail Pension Fund. Although much criticised at its inception, the fund was an unparalleled success and as Michel Strauss recalls: ‘over the years the term ‘a British rail picture’ has become an accolade and an enhancement to any provenance’ (M. Strauss, Pictures, Passions and Eye. A Life at Sotheby’s, London, 2011, p. 10).
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