- Paul Cézanne
- Oil on canvas
Galerie Zak, Paris
Pierre Lévy, Troyes (acquired from the above in 1939 and sold: Maîtres Boisseau et Pomez, Troyes, Succession Pierre Lévy, February 2-4, 2007, lot 529)
Acquired at the above sale
Lionello Venturi, Cézanne: son art–son oeuvre, Paris, 1936, no. 33 (dated 1865-1866)
Michel Hoog, Cézanne Puissant et solitaire, Paris, 1989, illustrated p. 33
This rare early landscape, probably painted the following year, certainly fulfills these criteria. If the darkly subtle palette and mingling of rocks and foliage are reminiscent of Courbet, the bold abundance of surface texture and daring application of pigment bear witness to a young artist striving to find a new means of expression that would surpass that of his predecessors and challenge his audience. Thick layers of paint are applied with a palette knife, highlighting the physical materiality of the picture and drawing attention to the process of its construction. Thus Cézanne implicates the viewer in his artistic process and uses the canvas to reveal his working methods. Lawrence Gowling wrote the following about this stage in Cézanne's career: "Cézanne was the first man [among the Impressionists], perhaps the first man in history, to realize the necessity for the manner in which paint is handled to build up a homogenous and consistent pictorial structure. This is the invention of forme in the French modernist sense—meaning the condition of paint that constitutes a pictorial structure. It is the discovery of an intrinsic structure inherent in the medium and the material" (Lawrence Gowing, Cézanne, The Early Years (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London; Musée d'Orsay, Paris & The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988-89, p. 10).
By 1866, since moving to Paris, Cézanne had twice been rejected by the Salon and had subsequently participated in the notorious Salon des Refusés alongside Manet and Pissarro. If the capital offered many gifts to the young artist, the lure of his native Aix-en-Provence nevertheless endured and he returned often to find inspiration in the surrounding countryside. The rocky hillside and shady forests were furthermore ideal subject matter for his experiments with painting en plein air as recommended by Pissarro. Cézanne was delighted with the results of this new technique and wrote to Zola, “But you know all pictures painted inside, in the studio, will never be as good as those painted outside. When outdoor scenes are represented…the landscape is magnificent. I see some superb things, and I must resolve to paint only outdoors” (letter from Cézanne to Zola, October 19, 1866). The fruits of this decision can certainly be seen in this densely verdant composition. Indeed Cézanne’s fascination with the wildly dramatic scenery of Provence would prove to be a defining feature of his art throughout his iconoclastic career, lending his paintings a personal poignancy even as they transcend genres and generations.
This work has a prestigious provenance, as it was a treasured possession of Pierre Lévy (1907-2002), the renowned patron of the arts who made his fortune with textile factories and together with his wife Denise amassed one of the most important French collections of the twentieth century. Much of their vast collection was bequeathed to the French state, leading to the creation in 1982 of the Musée d’art moderne in their hometown of Troyes. In his memoirs, Pierre Lévy describes how he began collecting art and recounts in fascinating detail how he acquired the present work: “One day in 1939…in Mme Zak’s store…There was a sombre little Cézanne with lots of impasto, representing the landscape of Aix. I asked the price. Mme Zak…stated that it is a canvas ‘for a connoisseur’” (Pierre Lévy, Des artistes et un collectionneur, Paris, 1976, p. 7, translated from the French). Pierre Lévy’s close friend the painter Marinot was delighted to witness the purchase of a painting by “the God of modern painting, he who had enabled everything, he who had opened all the doors, he who had understood everything and without whom there would have been neither Cubism, nor Orphism, nor Fauvism, or anything that we admire today. Cézanne had synthesised painting from Piero della Francesca to Courbet. That day I felt a rush of excitement to carry under my arm this little canvas that still holds a special place in my heart!” (ibid., p. 7). For Lévy, this first auspicious acquisition was a pivotal moment in his vocation as a collector of modern art, and the picture was one that he would cherish throughout his life.