Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
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Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves

Details
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves
oil on canvas
21 ¼ x 25 5/8 in. (54 x 65 cm.)
Painted circa 1904
Provenance
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Estate of Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Stephen Hahn Gallery, New York, by 1962.
Private collection, United States, by whom acquired from the above, by 1988.
Literature
J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New York, 1996, no. 918, p. 541 (illustrated vol. II, fig. 918, p. 321; titled 'Le Mont Sainte-Victoire').
G. Boehm, 'Precarious Balance: Cézanne and the Unfinished', in Cézanne: Finished-Unfinished, exh. cat., Kunstforum, Vienna, 2000, p. 31 (illustrated fig. 3; titled 'Mont Sainte-Victoire').
W. Feilchenfeldt, J. Warman & D. Nash, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne, An Online Catalogue Raisonné, no. 366 (accessed 2020).


Exhibited
New York, Stephen Hahn Gallery, XIX and XX Century French Paintings, Recent Acquisitions, November - December 1962, p. 7 (illustrated; titled 'Mount Sainte-Victoire').
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Cézanne and Structure in Modern Painting, June - August 1963.
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Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

‘With Cézanne landscape itself comes to an end’
Robert Motherwell

Rising majestically from the sun-scorched Provençal landscape, the Mont Sainte-Victoire occupies a legendary position in both the history and culture of this corner of southern France, and in the story of modern art. As the new century dawned, Paul Cézanne returned to this beloved landmark, a site he had known his whole life, and began a final crowning series of eleven oil paintings and a number of watercolours, all of which feature the soaring mountain and the sweeping, panoramic vista that spreads reverently before it. Returning day after day to the same spot at the top of Les Lauves hill, Cézanne entered into an intensely personal, near-spiritual dialogue with the scene that lay before him, communing with the great expanse of space and attempting, as he had throughout his career, to convey the sensation and harmony of nature in pictorial form. A summation of his life’s goals, this group of works sees the artist bring together colour, light and form, as well as the essence of Provence, the area to which he was indelibly wedded, in a triumphant union. 'For many,' Joseph Rishel has proclaimed, 'this group of views is the culmination of Cézanne’s efforts, his last titanic struggle to weld nature into art through profoundly complex, but finally extremely lucid, workings of colour… These late Mont Sainte-Victoires show the artist’s transformation of the mountain into a realm of “cosmic” creation' (J. Rishel, Cézanne, exh. cat., Philadelphia, 1996, p. 468).

Painted circa 1904, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves is among the most radical of this remarkable series (Rewald, nos. 910-916, 931, 932, 938). With passages of subtly shifting green hues, clusters of lines, and a web of blue strokes that coalesce to create the striking silhouette of the mountain, the composition instantly conjures a vivid sense of this landscape. The immediacy and intensity of execution that defines this series is evident here, as colour is applied directly to the primed canvas; the dashes, strokes and touches creating the necessary structure and essence of the scene, as well as expressing the artist’s excitement and agitation to capture the motif he saw before him. Not only does this painting provide a compelling and intimate glimpse into Cézanne’s radical working practice at this time, it also demonstrates the way in which he harnessed negative space as an active compositional element, a technique that would prove revelatory to future generations of artists. The sheer expanse of nature and the grandeur of this view is masterfully distilled in this open composition. It is this concept of space, both real and pictorial, that constituted a central component of the artist’s lifelong quest to paint the world as he saw it, constantly seeking to reconcile reality with its painted representation.

Cézanne painted this valedictory series from Les Lauves, a hill located directly north of Aix. Following the sale of the artist’s beloved family home, the Jas de Bouffan, Cézanne purchased a modest plot of land halfway up this hill, overlooking the red-tiled rooftops of the town below, in November 1901. With his monumental series of Baigneuses in mind, he designed the studio exactly to his specifications: a huge north facing window flooded his high-ceilinged second-floor studio with light, while he also added a long vertical slit in the corner of one of the walls so that his large canvases could be moved out of the studio once completed. He was delighted with the new space, writing to the dealer Ambroise Vollard in the autumn of 1902, ‘I have a large studio in the country. I work there, I am better off than in town’ (Cézanne, quoted in J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1996, p. 535).

This new location offered Cézanne a fresh perspective of the Mont Sainte-Victoire. Every day, after working in his studio in the morning, the artist headed outdoors to work ‘sur le motif’, taking a small path that led north from his studio to the top of Les Lauves. It was here, standing atop a mound facing eastwards across the verdant valley of the River Arc, that Cézanne could regard the mountain from its most striking and magisterial profile. Dominating the horizon, the gentle rise of the northern slope culminates in a dramatic, jutting peak of rock, before abruptly falling away on the southern side. ‘Look at the Sainte-Victoire there’, Joachim Gasquet remembered Cézanne saying during this period, his fervent adoration and deep emotional connection with this landmark clear. ‘What élan, what imperious thirst for the sun, and what melancholy in the evening, when all that weight sinks back!... Those blocks were made of fire. There’s still some fire in them. During the day, shadows seem to draw back with a shiver, to be afraid of them. Plato’s cave is up there; note how, when large clouds pass overhead, their shadows quiver on the rocks as if burnt up, instantly consumed by a mouth of fire’ (J. Gasquet, quoted in J. Rishel, op. cit., 1996, p. 468).

As a result of his proximity to this resplendent view, this landscape came to dominate Cézanne’s work. This was not the first time that he had pictured the Mont Sainte-Victoire in his art; looming over Aix and its environs, this landmark had long been a feature in his life. Never before, however, had Cézanne painted the same view with such singular devotion, intense scrutiny and near-devout regularity. He returned repeatedly to this same hillside location, and yet, no two paintings of this series are the same, differing, often vastly, in terms of compositional structure as well as paint handling. While in some works, Cézanne rendered the meadow in the foreground more fully, with the Mont Sainte-Victoire appearing like a shimmering mirage in the distance, in others it was the blue-hued mountain itself, framed by a sky so opaque and weighty that it appears as a tangible entity, that dominates; mighty, majestic and timeless despite being constructed from nothing more than floating strokes and patches of colour. With its gently sloping horizon line, the present work conveys the sense of wide open, panoramic space that defined this vista, a feature shared with The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves (Rewald, no. 915), which likewise conveys the grandeur of the seemingly endless Provençal horizon.

The depiction of the Mont Sainte-Victoire in these final years posed a final, and at times, seemingly insurmountable challenge for Cézanne, as he strove to capture this iconic symbol of Provence – which has since also become a symbol of the artist himself – in pictorial form. ‘I am working obstinately’, he wrote to Vollard in 1903. ‘I am beginning to see the promised land. Shall I be like the great leader of the Hebrews or shall I be able to enter it?... I have made some progress. Why so late and with such difficulty? Is art indeed a priesthood which demands the pure in heart, completely dedicated to it?’ (Cézanne, quoted in J. Rewald, Paul Cézanne, transl. M. H. Liebman, London, 1959, p. 181). As he had throughout his career, Cézanne sought not simply to depict what he could see, but to render the sensation and most importantly the process of this observation: how objects appear and how they exist and interact with the space surrounding them. Created with a powerful emotional intensity, these late, great landscapes demonstrate how Cézanne negotiated the irrefutable facts of reality, and the seemingly illusory, ephemeral nature of our perception of it. The mountain exists as a solid, unyielding mass, yet appears from afar as a constantly shifting screen of light and colour. Cézanne’s great achievement was to distil these contradictory aspects of vision into pictorial form, capturing the transience and permanence of the world through harmonious strokes of colour upon canvas. In so doing, he fundamentally altered the possibilities of painting. ‘All that we see dissipates and disappears, does it not?’, Cézanne asked. ‘Nature is always the same, but nothing remains of what we see of it. It is our art that must convey the sense of permanence, capture the elements in all their changing forms. It should give us a taste of the eternal. What lies beneath? Perhaps nothing, perhaps everything. Everything, you understand?’ (Cézanne, quoted in A. Danchev, Cézanne: A Life, London, 2013, p. 339).

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