PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)
Le vase bleu sombre
oil on canvas
12 1/4 x 10 5/8 in. (31.1 x 27 cm.)
Painted circa 1880
Ambroise Vollard, Paris (acquired from the artist).
Sarah Choate Sears, Boston (April 1906).
Mr. and Mrs. James Donald Cameron Bradley, Boston (by descent from the above).
J.A. Davidson, possibly New York.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above, December 1950).
French Art Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, April 1951).
Henry J. Leir, Luxembourg (by 1963); sale, Sotheby's, London, 27 June 1995, lot 2.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty at the above sale.
M.W. Brown, The Story of the Armory Show, New York, 1963, pp. 74 and 229, no. 1068 (illustrated; titled Flowers).
J. Rewald, Cezanne and America: Dealers, Collectors, Artists and Critics, 1891-1921, London, 1989, pp. 31, 34, 130, 192 and 196 (illustrated, p. 31).
J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cezanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1996, vol. I, p. 317, no. 473 (illustrated vol. II, p. 151, fig. 473).
P. Machotka, Cezanne: The Eye and The Mind, Marseille, 2008, vol. II, p. 134 (illustrated; illustrated again, vol. I, no. 197).
G.-P. and F. Dauberville, Cezanne: Paul Cezanne chez Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, 2020, p. 84 (illustrated in situ in the 1910 exhibition, p. 86).
W. Feilchenfeldt, J. Warman and D. Nash, The Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings of Paul Cezanne: An Online Catalogue Raisonné (, no. FWN 788 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Cezanne, January 1910, no. 36 (titled Trois Fleurs).
New York, Armory of the Sixty-Ninth Regiment; The Art Institute of Chicago and Boston, Copley Society of Art, The Armory Show: International Exhibition of Modern Art, February-May 1913, no. 22 (titled Flowers).
Utica, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute and New York, Armory of the Sixty-Ninth Regiment, 1913 Armory Show: 50th Anniversary Exhibition, February-April 1963, p. 180, no. 1068 (illustrated; titled Flowers).
New-York Historical Society, The Armory Show at 100: Modernism and Revolution, October 2013-February 2014, p. 341, no. 264 (illustrated in color).

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Lot Essay

Exhibited in the landmark Armory Show held in New York in 1913, Le vase bleu sombre is one of Paul Cezanne’s floral still-lifes. For an artist obsessed by the act—and art—of looking and subsequently transcribing this vision into two-dimensional form, the still-life genre was the perfect vehicle for his artistic pursuits. From elaborate arrangements of fruit, objects, and patterned fabrics, to arrangements of flowers, such as the present work, the still-life offered Cezanne a way of probing the boundaries of illusionism, exploring the relationships between one object to another, between the viewer and the painting, as well as the properties of paint itself. As Emile Bernard wrote, Cezanne “needed time to push [the limits of his medium], and it was in front of skulls, in front of green fruits or paper flowers that he found it” (quoted in B. Leca, ed., The World is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cezanne, exh. cat., The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, 2014, p. 21).
Cezanne turned to the floral still-life on only a handful of occasions throughout his life—as a result this subject is rare within his oeuvre. The present work is the finest of a trio of canvases painted around 1880, all of which feature the same dark blue vase. In one, now in the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, Cezanne included the entirety of the elegantly shaped vessel (FWN, no. 786), while another, now held in the Kreeger Museum, Washington, D.C. (FWN, no. 787), features a more elaborate posy, complete with daisies and a poppy, as well as the same blousy pink peonies as in the present work. Echoing the spontaneity of this loose arrangement, Cezanne adorned the vase itself with flowers and leaves. Neither of these companion works have the same detail and refinement as the present painting. By cropping the composition, Cezanne emphasized the pictorial relationships between the softness of the peony petals, the delicate lozenged patterning of the blue wallpaper, together with the delineated forms of the verdant green leaves, all of which are set in contrast to the abstracted neck of the vase.
The beginning of the 1880s was a time of significant change in Cezanne’s art. As the previous decade drew to a close, he famously renounced the Impressionist manner in which he had been working, declaring he wanted to make of this style, “something more solid and enduring like the art in museums” (quoted in J. Rewald, Paul Cezanne, London, 1959, p. 122). Unlike the Impressionist goal of capturing the ephemeral appearance of a motif, Cezanne sought instead to impose a pictorial logic on the transitory effects and appearance of the natural world. Gaining in artistic assuredness his art underwent a shift; forms and objects became more stable and monumentalized as he focused increasingly on pictorial space and compositional structure.
Closely cropped so as to eliminate the rest of the vase, as well as the tabletop, the present work exemplifies this aesthetic development. Breaking away from the traditional conventions of the still life—namely the depiction of the surrounding setting—Cezanne instead focused on the relationship between the delicate rose pink petals and the rigid, solid form of the vase. He outlined the voluminous flowers in blue—a reflection of his desire not for verisimilitude in his portrayal of these blooms, but rather of his interest in their physical qualities, how they exist in space and how their material qualities can be conveyed in paint. Unlike the clearly delineated outlines of the leaves, the peonies appear as clouds of color, the diaphanous petals rendered in an exquisite array of pink and white strokes.
The legendary dealer and key supporter of Cezanne, Ambroise Vollard, was the first owner of Le vase bleu sombre. In April 1906, it was acquired by Sarah Choate Sears, an artist and photographer, as well as an important collector and patron. Keenly involved in artistic circles of her native Massachusetts, she assembled “one of the most adventurous art collections ever formed in Boston” (quoted in G. Stavitsky and K. Rothkopf, Cezanne and American Modernism, exh. cat., Montclair Art Museum, 2009, p. 81). After the death of her husband in 1905, Sears, a friend of Mary Cassatt, traveled across Europe with the Impressionist artist and supporter, as well as Gertrude Stein. Hers was one of a small number of privately owned Cezannes to be included in the notorious Armory Show of 1913, a breakthrough moment in the development and reception of modern art in America.

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