Lot 9
  • 9

Paul Cézanne

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Paul Cézanne
  • Rochers près des grottes au-dessus de château noir

  • Watercolor on paper

  • 18¼ by 12 in.
  • 46.4 by 30.5 cm


Paul Cézanne fils, Paris (the artist’s son)

Bernheim-Jeune, Paris

Alphonse Kann, St. Germain-en-Laye

Jos Hessel, Paris

Bernheim-Jeune, Paris

John Hugh Smith, Oxford

Mayor Gallery, London (no. 3287)

Oswald T. Falk, London

Dr and Mrs Alfred Scharf, London

Mrs Ursula Price, London

Sale: Sotheby’s, London, April 1, 1981, lot 162

John R. Gaines, Lexington, Kentucky (purchased at the above sale)

E. V. Thaw, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in July 1982


New York, M. Knoedler and Co., Cézanne Watercolors, 1963, no. 39 illustrated in the catalogue (titled Rochers à Bibémus)

London, Victoria & Albert Museum (on loan 1969-70)

Newcastle, Laing Art Gallery and London, Hayward Gallery (The Arts Council of Great Britain), Watercolour and Pencil Drawings by Cézanne, 1973, no. 82, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Rocks near the Château Noir)

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Cézanne, The Late Work, 1977,  illustrated in the catalogue pl. 42, pp. 92 and 248

Tübingen, Kunsthalle and Zurich, Kunsthaus, Paul Cézanne: Aquarelle, 1982, no. 122, illustrated in the catalogue

Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais and London, Tate Gallery, Cézanne, 1995-96, no. 150, illustrated in color in the catalogue p. 367

Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Classic Cézanne, 1998, pl. 33, illustrated in color in the catalogue

New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Cézanne Watercolors, 1999, illustrated in color in the catalogue pl. 11


Ambroise Vollard archives, photographs nos. 93 & 94

Lionello Venturi, Cézanne. Son art, son œuvre, Paris, 1936, vol. I, no. 1042, catalogued p. 270; vol. II, no. 1042, illustrated pl. 307 (titled Rochers à Bibémus and as dating from 1895-1900)

Lionello Venturi (revised), (as dating from 1895-99)

Amédée Ozenfant, Art, Paris, 1928, illustrated upside-down p. 73

Amédée Ozenfant, Foundations of Modern Art, New York, 1931, illustrated pl. 67 (upside down)

Fritz Novotny, Cézanne und das Ende der wissenschaftlichen Perspektive, Vienna, 1938, no. 25, mentioned p. 197

Theodore Reff, "Cézanne: The Logical Mystery," in Art News, April 1963, fig. 3, illustrated pp. 28-29

John Rewald, "The Last motifs at Aix," in Cézanne:  The Late Work, New York, 1977, illustrated pp. 78, 92 & pl. 42

John Rewald, Paul Cézanne. The Watercolours: A Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1983, no. 432, catalogued pp. 191-92, illustrated

Götz Adriani, Paul Cézanne: Aquarelle, Cologne, 1983, no. 122, catalogued p. 288

Catalogue Note

Executed between 1895-1900, Rochers près des grottes au-dessus de Château Noir belongs to a series of watercolors (John Rewald, op. cit., nos. 432-39), depicting the rock formations adjacent to the caves above the Château Noir (see fig. 1), in the vicinity of the Mont Sainte-Victoire. Fascinated by the unspoilt appearance of these formations, untouched by human intervention, Cézanne examined the effects of light on the landscape, variously focusing on the stones, the bushes or the slope beneath them. Whilst other watercolours of this subject (see fig. 2), as indeed most of Cézanne’s works in this medium, were first outlined in pencil, the present work was executed in a more direct manner, applying pure color on paper, without an underlying drawing. By using this technique the artist not only created a spontaneous image in the Impressionist tradition of painting en plein air, but also achieved a higher degree of abstraction, building his composition of patches of pure color.


Theodore Reff described the technique of the present work: "Cézanne attacked the white paper directly with the brush, allowing the strokes of liquid color, which is more saturated, to define the edges of forms through their shapes and contrasts of tone. Consequently, the strokes are more varied in weight and form, adapted to the representation of texture as well as mass: the broad dilute washes are reserved for rock surfaces, the heavy strokes for shadows and dark crevices, and the fine curling touches for outgrowths of foliage. In keeping with this more pictorial approach, the surface is filled to the edges, while in the more abstract St. Louis version, the peripheral areas are untouched, implying an isolated elliptical field like those in Analytical Cubist pictures" (Theodore Reff, quoted in ibid., p. 192).


Rochers belongs to the climactic phase in Cézanne’s artistic production, during which he executed a number of his best works that were to have a pivotal influence on the development of twentieth century art. In this work, he reduced his palette to a combination of green, blue and orange tones, and broadened his brushstroke, thus reaching a nearly abstract composition characteristic of his mature work. During the last decade of his career, Cézanne’s choice of motifs developed in two different directions: in one, exemplified by his many late views of the Mont Sainte-Victoire, the artist portrayed open and expansive scenes dominated by the sense of freedom and spaciousness. In the other, exemplified by the present work, he depicted densely wooded or rocky landscapes that occupy the entire picture frame, focusing on patterns and on the pictorial elements of line and color, rather than on creating an illusion of depth and perspective. In this latter group of works he revolutionised the concept of spatial structure by fully embracing the two-dimensional quality of the picture plane.


The landscape portrayed in the present work is situated about three miles east of Aix-en-Provence, near the Château Noir, the ruins of a country residence of a coal magnate started in the mid-nineteenth century but never finished. Cézanne often painted the landscape surrounding the Château, and from 1887 to 1902 he rented a room there, in which he could store his painting materials. In 1899 he attempted to purchase the Château Noir, but with no success. The rocky terrain of the area and the orange sandstone provided the artist with picturesque forms and colours. The sandstone boulders used to build houses in Aix were excavated in the nearby quarry of Bibémus, which also provided inspiration for a number of paintings (see fig. 3) and watercolours. Writing about the present work, John Rewald observed: "Cézanne has here translated into his own language of color and lines some forms of nature most carefully observed and analyzed. It is true that only an acquaintance with this spot, its entangled masses emerging from shrubs and sometimes half hidden by trees (now gone), allows a clear reading of the subject. Despite its apparently abstract character, this is an astonishingly faithful representation of an unusual – almost secretive – motif" (John Rewald, op. cit., p. 191).



Fig. 1, Caves near Château Noir (photograph by John Rewald, circa 1935)

Fig. 2, Paul Cézanne, Rochers près des grottes au-dessus de Château Noir, 1895-1900, watercolour and pencil on paper, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Fig. 3, Paul Cézanne, La Carrière de Bibémus, circa 1895, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang, Essen