Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

Route en sous-bois

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
Route en sous-bois
watercolor and pencil on paper
19 1/8 x 12 ½ in. (48.4 x 31.7 cm.)
Executed circa 1890
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Marie Harriman Gallery, New York (by 1939).
Justin K. Thannhauser, New York.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 20 March 1946).
Anna J. Sweeney, New York (acquired from the above, December 1947).
Walter Feilchenfeldt, Zürich.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1997.
J. Rewald, Paul Cézanne: The Watercolors, Boston, 1983, p. 166, no. 330 (illustrated).
J. Rewald, Cézanne: A Biography, New York, 1986, p. 275 (illustrated in color, p. 261).
New York, Marie Harriman Gallery, Cézanne Centennial Exhibition, 1839-1939, November-December 1939, no. 33 (titled Paysage).
Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Watercolours by Paul Cézanne, 1939, no. 16.
Cincinnati Art Museum, Paintings by Paul Cézanne, February-March 1947, no. 18 (titled Landscape).
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art; Kobe, The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art and Nagoya, The Aichi Prefectural Art Gallery, Cézanne, September-December 1986, p. 94, no. 50 (illustrated in color).
Neuss, Clemens-Sels-Museum and Munich, Museum Villa Stuck, Rainer Maria Rilke und die bildende Kunst seiner Zeit, October 1996-April 1997, p. 173, no. 68 (illustrated in color, p. 78).
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Classic Cézanne, November 1998- February 1999, pp. 151 and 184, no. 80 (illustrated in color).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming online catalogue raisonné of Paul Cézanne's watercolors, under the direction of Walter Feilchenfeldt, David Nash and Jayne Warman.

"The watercolours are very beautiful...a series of washes, admirably arranged with a sureness of touch: like the echo of a melody"
(Rainer Maria Rilke, 1895, quoted in J. Rewald, Paul Cézanne, trans. M. H. Liebman, London, n. d., p. 178).

A translucent mosaic of perceptively applied colour, Paul Cézanne’s Route en sous-bois is an exquisitely rendered, luminous watercolour that was executed circa 1890. Watercolour was a medium that remained central to Cézanne throughout his career, offering him a variety of painterly effects that differed from oil paint in his continuous search to solve the problem of the depiction of reality. In his later years, Cézanne turned increasingly to this medium, establishing a delicate balance between drawing and soft touches of colour. In Route en sous-bois, Cézanne has depicted a sun-dappled path lined with trees and an abundance of foliage. Overlapping strokes of translucent colour–verdant greens, deeper tones of blue, flashes of purple, and soft ochre–construct the scene, accompanied, yet not governed by, a loose, just-visible network of pencil line, and gleaming areas of empty paper which are integrated into the construction of the composition itself. With an astounding simplicity of means Cézanne has conjured the quiet, light-filled atmosphere of this deserted corner of the French countryside, creating a work of charming intimacy and bucolic tranquillity.
The exact location of Route en sous-bois has not been identified, but at the time that he painted this work, Cézanne was living an increasingly secluded life in the south of France, exploring the countryside around Aix-en-Provence. After his father’s death in 1886, Cézanne returned more frequently to his family home, the Jas de Bouffan. Without his father’s presence, Cézanne was able to bring Hortense Fiquet, whom he married in April of this year, and their son Paul, spending increased periods of time in his beloved home. Relieved of his financial woes thanks to a substantial inheritance from his father, Cézanne was able to dedicate himself completely to his painting. He became increasingly removed from the Parisian art world and immersed himself in the secluded landscape of Provence, depicting the areas first to the east and subsequently to the west of Aix, around the Mont Sainte-Victoire, travelling around the quiet roads and paths that led from village to village in this rural corner of southern France. Cézanne spent his days in happy solitude, devoting himself wholeheartedly to the pursuit of his artistic ambitions in the land that he had grown up in and adored. As he wrote to a friend, ‘Were it not that I am deeply in love with the landscape of my country, I should not be here’ (T. Reff, ‘Painting and Theory in the Final Decade’ in W. Rubin (ed.), Cézanne: the Late Works, New York, 1977, p. 26).
At this time however, Cézanne often journeyed to the north of France, to Paris and to the Île-de-France region as well as the forest of Fontainebleau, where, according to Ambroise Vollard, he rented a studio in September 1892. In contrast to his pictures of the sun-soaked south, his paintings here depict a more verdant and green landscape, where boulders and pine trees are conspicuously absent. The luscious foliage that dominates Route en sous-bois and the elegant tree trunks in the foreground could therefore also be seen to portray the verdant landscape of northern France.
Throughout his career, Cézanne relished the depiction of woods and trees, capturing the varied and ever-changing nuances of colour and light as he sought to convey his perceptions of nature. ‘From the Île-de-France landscapes of the 1870s’, Françoise Cachin has written, ‘to the paintings of the Bibémus quarry and the environs of the Château Noir from the very last years of his life, Cézanne obsessively explored motifs of trees, forests, thickets, screens of foliage, and leafy masses...images of a nature whose vitality is almost suffocating, whose colours are organised in green patches held in place by the rigorously drawn lines of tree trunks’ (F. Cachin, zanne, exh. cat., Paris, London and Philadelphia, 1996, p. 378).
The motif of a path leading through a wood or a tree-lined road turning as it recedes into the distance was one of Cézanne’s favourite subjects and he returned again and again to this form of composition, rendering it on multiple occasions in both watercolour and oil paint. Cézanne had first explored this motif in the early 1870s at a pivotal moment in his career when he was painting alongside the Impressionist, Camille Pissarro in the Île-de-France. In Route en sous-bois, Cézanne has used this traditional perspectival device in the form of a path that recedes directly into the distance. Two soaring trees frame the composition, creating a marked differentiation between foreground and background, and the darker shades of the undergrowth further this sense of receding space. Yet, the vanishing point–the opening through the archway of trees–is left unpainted save for a glimmer of ochre underlined with grey. The viewer’s eye is ushered through the verdant walkway, yet is met with a flat surface. This empty space obscures the perspective of the painting, creating a compelling tension between the illusionistic representation of space, and the flat, unpainted surface of the paper.
The integration of the luminous surface of the white paper into the composition is one of the defining features of Cézanne’s late watercolours. For Cézanne, it was the process of painting that was in many cases more important than the final product. He scrutinised nature, methodically applying paint as he sought not to depict an exact likeness of the landscape before him, but to capture its essence, its underlying structure and the sensations that regarding it produced. ‘His method was remarkable’, the artist Emile Bernard wrote in 1904, describing Cézanne’s use of watercolour, ‘absolutely different from the usual process, and extremely complicated. He began on the shadow with a single patch, which he then overlapped with a second, then a third, until all those tints, hinging one to another like screens, not only coloured the object but modelled its form’ (E. Bernard, quoted in J. Rewald, Paul Cézanne: The Watercolours, A Catalogue Raisonné by John Rewald, London, 1983, p. 37). This considered approach, which saw Cézanne applying layers of paint which he left to dry before adding the next layer, allowed him to create, through a series of patches of colour, a sense of volume. He ensured that each colour worked in harmony with its neighbour. It is this sense of balance that characterises Route en sous-bois and many of Cézanne’s other late watercolours. Colour and line hang in perfect accord, surrounded by and integrating the white paper which, as John Rewald has described, in its ‘all-embracing emptiness intensifies the mysterious relationship between a few firm lines and a few subtle colour accents’ (J. Rewald, ibid., p. 28).
Route en sous-bois dates from a time when Cézanne was gradually beginning to experience increasing critical acclaim and recognition for his painting. Writers, Gustave Geffroy and Joaquim Gasquet wrote admiringly of his work, and the avant-garde dealer, Ambroise Vollard began to represent the artist in 1895, holding an exhibition of his work in Paris in the same year. Cézanne became increasingly more self-assured, realising his artistic aims more clearly and it was at this time that he painted some of the greatest masterpieces of his career, including the Card Players series of the early 1890s.

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