The present work certainly fulfils these criteria. The darkly subtle palette and mingling of rocks and foliage recall the landscapes of Gustave Courbet as well as those of the Barbizon School painters such as Camille Corot or Théodore Rousseau. However, Cézanne’s bold handling of paint and the rich texture of the pigment surface reveal his striving towards an entirely new pictorial language, one which, as it developed throughout his career, was to profoundly influence the direction of twentieth century painting. Thick layers of paint are applied, 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' (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).
Living in Paris, the artist often returned to his native Aix-en-Provence to find inspiration in the surrounding countryside. The rocky hillside and shady forests were 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 his friend Emile 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, 19th October 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 career, lending his paintings a personal poignancy even as they transcend genres and generations.
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