Paul Cézanne, Paris (the artist's son)
E. J. van Wisselingh, Amsterdam
Knoedler Galleries, New York
Private Collection, USA (acquired from the above in 1958)
Thence by descent to the present owner
In 1870, when the Franco-Prussian war broke out, Cézanne left Paris and returned to the South of France. The early years of the new decade proved to be the pinnacle of his 'romantic' period, exemplified by the dramatic La Promenade. The present work is executed in a highly expressive manner with thickly applied paint. The passion evident in the handling and colouration was for Laurence Gowing indicative of the singular path Cézanne took in his early work: 'Its portrayal of his world can now be recognised as often brilliant, sometimes grotesque, yet as often crudely grand, nearly always unquiet and seemingly haunted by a spirit that is unexplained. Its movements writhed like snakes. Its stillness built a solidity into paint as no painting before had ever been built, as if paint could be as monumental as masonry. Before Cézanne's way changed in 1872 and his ferocity was sublimated under another star, these first works culminated in a group of masterpieces' (L. Gowing in Cézanne, The Early Years 1859-1872 (exhibition catalogue), op. cit, p. 5).
Cézanne had previously concentrated his energies on portraits and allegorical scenes; his growing mastery of the realist idiom is evident in the inventive way he used the fashion plate to inspire compositions. The subject matter, elegantly dressed ladies, was much in vogue at the time Cézanne painted the present work. Manet and Monet had dedicated some of their finest and most important canvases to portayals of the haute-bourgoisie at leisure (figs. 1 & 2). Cézanne's interpretation of the subject, by way of the fashion plate, is indicative of his interest in the art of his contemporaries. Specifically, the artist strove to create paintings that were products of individual expression, allowing him to forge truly Modern paintings. Sir Laurence Gowing discussing the present work noted that 'in 1870-71 he turned back to plates from L'Illustration des Dames and La Mode Illustrée as a basis for paraphrases of a closeness that suggests that not only the human material and the Parisian chic, which must have both been hard to come by at L'Estaque in the circumstances of the war were of value to him, but that the fashion plate style was of interest in itself. Possibly the patterns of parallel pleats and frills reminded him of the formulation of the bulging solidity of Louis-Auguste which he had invented years before [fig. 2]' (L. Gowing in Cézanne, The Early Years 1859-1872 (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 180).
In discussing works from Cézanne's early period John Rewald included a quote from perceptive critic who wrote in 1904 that: 'Cézanne began with pictures in a Spanish vein, painted in heavy, dark colours and endowed with an astounding plasticity, But in the richness of their nuances even these early works announce a great colourist, and in the brushwork as well as concept a highly personal character. [...] In everything, in his taste as in his way of wielding his brush, he is like a 'force of nature' in Goethe's sense, and as such is revealed even in his least important works. This is the best sign of his greatness. And the time when his greatness will be recognized not merely by a small circle may be nearer than many think' (quoted in John Rewald, op. cit, p. 123).
The first owner of the present work was the artist's son, Paul Cézanne, fils, would typically keep pictures of deep emotional significance to him, most of which his father had preserved in his personal possesion or had presented to his family as gifts. La Promenade was subsequently acquired for the Whitney collection, which became internationally renowned through series of exhibitions and generous donations to many important institutions. In 1988 La Promenade was included in the ground-breaking exhibition of Cézanne's early works held at the Royal Academy in London and travelled to Paris and Washington D.C.
Fig. 1, Édouard Manet, Le Balcon, 1868, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fig. 2, Claude Monet, Femmes au Jardin, 1866, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
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