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Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

La plaine de Bellevue (recto); Paysage provençal (verso)

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
La plaine de Bellevue (recto); Paysage provençal (verso)
watercolour and pencil on paper (recto and verso)
12¼ x 18¾ in. (31.2 x 47.5 cm.)
Executed circa 1885-1888
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Paul Cassirer, Berlin & Amsterdam.
Franz Koenigs, Amsterdam, by whom acquired from the above by 1938 (on loan to the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1938-1949, no. B913), and thence by descent to the previous owners; sale, Christie's, London, 8 February 2007, lot 518.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. Siblík, Paul Cézanne, Dessins, Prague, 1968 & Paris, 1972, p. 27 (illustrated).
J. Rewald, Paul Cézanne, The Watercolours, A Catalogue raisonné, London, 1983, nos. 260 (recto) & 261 (verso) (illustrated).
Amsterdam, Paul Cassirer, Fransche Meesters uit de XIXe Eeuw, July - August 1938, no. 18.
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Painting light: the hidden techniques of the Impressionists, February - June 2008, no. 161 (illustrated p. 150); this exhibition later travelled to Florence, Palazzo Strozzi.
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Lot Essay

'A detailed and delicate drawing heightened with occasional touches of watercolor', as John Rewald has described the recto (op. cit), this landscape study shows the view seen from a vantage point along the southern perimeter of the Jas de Bouffan, the Cézanne family estate on the western outskirts of Aix. The edge of a stone-block pillar is visible on the right side. From here the artist has faced southwest, gazing across a plain toward the farmhouses that comprise the hamlet of Bellevue on the next rise. Cézanne painted this scene three times in the decade between 1885 and 1895. The first, Dans le plaine de Bellevue, 1885-1888 (Rewald Paintings, no. 715; fig. 1), was probably painted around the time the artist made the studies on both sides of this sheet. Cézanne returned to this motif again in La plaine de Bellevue (Les terres rouges), 1890-1892 (RP 716; Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania), and in Campagnes de Bellevue, 1892-1895 (RP 717; The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.).

The differences between the watercolour and the paintings are instructive, insofar as they reveal the degree to which Cézanne would selectively treat the landscape elements that lay before him. Cézanne has framed the recto compostion using the tree on one side and the pillar on the other, and nearly half the sky taken up by the billowing shorthand he has used to indicate treetop foliage. This carefully balanced aspect follows established classical landscape conventions, as seen in the work of Nicolas Poussin, the 17th century master whom Cézanne idolized. The verso study contains fewer details, and shows a more rounded and volumetric treatment of the landscape elements. In the three paintings, however, Cézanne aimed primarily for a more radical and modern compositional emphasis that favoured openness and expanse, which he created by the stacking horizontal layers of landscape forms. In RP 715 (fig. 1) and 716, the landscape details are packed into a central band, sandwiched between the empty plain in the foreground and the sky above. The angled rooftops of the farmhouses serve as bridges between the horizontal bands and create the illusion of modulated distance. To this end Cézanne eliminated the bracing vertical elements that he had included in the recto study, which would have disrupted the broad effect he was seeking.

Geneviève Monnier has noted that the composition of his middle-period watercolours 'was strictly regulated by linear rhythms. This organization of space accordingly to a geometrical plan answered to Cézanne's determination to affirm the objectivity of his perception in contrast to the subjective vision of the Impressionists' (in 'The Late Watercolors', Cézanne: The Late Work, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1977, p. 113). Rewald has observed, 'It appears as though he was now aiming at a great purity of line from which color is not allowed to detract' (op. cit., p. 27). To this end Cézanne applied watercolour very sparingly to the drawings on either side of this sheet. Rewald continues, 'especially during the late eighties... he strove to establish a balance between his masterful, economic yet eloquent drawing and the equally economic yet deft use of luminous spots of color. Whether we designate these sheets as drawings heightened with colors rather than watercolors does not really matter. They represent, if not a radical departure from the conventional concept of the role of white paper in watercolors, at least a new type of harmony to which the whiteness of the support is essential' (op. cit., p. 28).

(fig. 1) Paul Cézanne, Dans le plaine de Bellevue, 1885-1888. Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne; Rheinisches Bildarchiv, Köln.

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