PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)
PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)
PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)
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PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)
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Property Sold to Benefit Museum Langmatt
PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)

La mer à l'Estaque

PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)
La mer à l'Estaque
oil on canvas
15 ½ x 18 ½ in. (39.2 x 47 cm.)
Painted in 1878-1879 (possibly later)
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Sidney and Jenny Brown, Baden (acquired from the above, 6 April 1933, then by descent).
Stiftung Langmatt Sidney und Jenny Brown, Baden (bequest from the above, 1987).
L. Venturi, Cezanne: Son art, son œuvre, Paris, 1936, vol. I, p. 157, no. 426 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. 120; dated 1883-1886).
B. Dorival, Cezanne, Paris, 1948, p. 53 (dated 1882-1885).
L. Guerry, Cezanne et l'expression de l'espace, Paris, 1950, p. 88.
D. Cooper, "Two Cezanne Exhibitions" in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 96, no. 621, December 1954, p. 378.
S. Orienti, The Complete Paintings of Cezanne, New York, 1972, p. 106, no. 424 (illustrated; titled Houses and Chimney-Stack from Above and dated 1883-1886).
M.R. Bourges, Itinéraires de Cezanne, Aix-en-Provence, 1982, no. 4.
"Landschaften" in Du, vol. 49, no. 9, September 1989, p. 65 (illustrated in color; dated 1883-1886).
F. Deuchler, Die französischen Impressionisten und ihre Vorläufer, Baden, 1990, p. 72, no. 11 (illustrated in color, p. 73; dated circa 1883).
J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cezanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1996, vol. I, p. 262, no. 392 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. 123).
E.-M. Preiswerk-Lösel, ed., Ein Haus für die Impressionisten Das Museum Langmatt, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2001, pp. 160-162 and 257-258, no. 20 (illustrated in color, p. 161; illustrated again, p. 257; dated circa 1883).
G. Blanc, L'Estaque: Art et Patrimoine, Chronique d'une double histoire, Gémenos, 2013, p. 16 (illustrated).
G. Blanc, Cezanne à l'Estaque: Huiles, aquarelles, dessins, 1864-1885, Marseille, 2019, p. 59 (illustrated in color, p. 58, fig. 64; detail illustrated in color on the cover).
G. Blanc, Et si l'Estaque m'était contée?, 2020, p. 15 (illustrated).
W. Feilchenfeldt, J. Warman and D. Nash, The Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings of Paul Cezanne: An Online Catalogue Raisonné (, no. FWN 122 (illustrated in color).
Baden, Museum Langmatt, Herzkammer: 30 Jahre Langmatt, March-August 2020, pp. 114-117 (illustrated in color, pp. 116-117).

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Lot Essay

In a letter to Camille Pissarro from the summer of 1876, Paul Cezanne attempted to summarize the sensations he felt before the picturesque vistas of L’Estaque, which he was trying to capture in his latest canvases: “It’s like a playing card. Red roofs against the blue sea… The sun is so fierce that objects seem to be silhouetted, not only in black or white, but in blue, red, brown, violet. I may be wrong, but this seems to be the very opposite of modeling” (quoted in A. Danchev, ed., The Letters of Paul Cezanne, London, 2013, p. 158). Filled with a rich internal energy, La mer à l’Estaque encapsulates the growing boldness and innovation of Cezanne’s style at this pivotal moment, offering a glimpse into the powerful impact this small fishing village on the Mediterranean coast had on his approach to painting, its sun-drenched hills and shimmering sea providing the setting for some of the most innovative landscapes of the artist’s entire career.
Situated on the coast some five miles northwest of Marseille and eighteen miles southwest of Cezanne’s birthplace of Aix, the hamlet of L’Estaque spread across a rocky, pine-filled hillside that sloped sharply down to the Mediterranean sea. Squeezed between the mountains and the water into a natural amphitheater, the town was protected from the strong, cold winds of the mistral and remained bathed in light from sunrise to sunset, even during the winter months. Cezanne’s mother had rented a small cottage in the center of L’Estaque for summer vacations during the 1860s, and the town became a refuge for the artist during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. He returned to this peaceful stretch of the coast for a series of trips through the rest of the decade and into the early 1880s, often working en plein air in the picturesque landscape, setting up his easel at the edge of the pine woods overlooking the spread of modest, red roofed, ocher-walled buildings below. From this elevated position Cezanne enjoyed a commanding, panoramic view of the bay of Marseille, with L’Estaque in the foreground and the full uninterrupted expanse of the blue waters of the Mediterranean below, as it stretched towards the horizon and met the vast azure sky in the distance.
Most likely painted between July 1878 and March 1879, La mer à l’Estaque is one of three closely related views of the town that Cezanne created during his longest stay in the area, alongside La mer à l’Estaque derrière les arbres (FWN, no. 120; Musée national Picasso, Paris) and L’Estaque vu à travers les arbres (FWN, no. 121; Private collection). Writing to Emile Zola in August 1878, Cezanne explained his intention to stay “until the last possible moment” working on the studies of L’Estaque that were occupying him intensely, most likely referring to this trio of canvases (letter to Zola, 27 August 1878; in J. Rewald, ed., Paul Cezanne, Letters, London, 1941, pp. 121-122). In all three, Cezanne depicts the same group of buildings on the slopes leading down to the water, the composition divided into a series of distinct, broad zones—land, sea and sky—that encapsulate the central tenets of the environment of L’Estaque. Varying the view slightly from one canvas to the next, Cezanne explored different elements of the landscape, altering the proportions and shapes of the houses, or modifying the perspective to alternately condense and expand the sense of space within the scene. Unlike the other two paintings within this trio, where the view is glimpsed through a screen of trees, in the present composition the vista is unimpeded by the forest of pines, allowing the eye to roam across the full stretch of the sky and sea.
Cezanne’s long familiarity with the town ensured that he was deftly attuned to the rhythms and patterns of the landscape, the changes and developments that occurred from season to season, year to year. And yet, his portrayals of L’Estaque were resolutely peaceful, timeless visions that excluded traces of the town’s bustling tourist trade, the crowded beaches and promenades, the traffic around the bay or the fishing boats packed closely together in the harbor. Indeed, the only signal of modernity in La mer à l’Estaque is the strong vertical profile of the smokestack of a local tile or brick factory in the center of the composition, its towering presence offering a striking contrast to the modest, single-story buildings dotted across the rocky hillside as it thrusts upwards, linking the foreground to the vast body of water. Nevertheless, the canvas is infused with a vivid sense of experimentation and discovery, as Cezanne explored an increasingly abstract construction of the landscape, with overlapping planes of color take the place of conventional modelling. While in certain passages the paint is laid down in closely packed, carefully layered diagonal strokes, in other sections Cezanne adopts looser, swirling brushwork, swiftly rendering the view in a rush of energy. Similarly, the outlines of several buildings appear to shimmer and vibrate, with subtle pentimenti visible along their edges, as the artist shifted and altered the path of his ideas as he worked on the canvas.
Cezanne’s painted meditations on the landscape of L’Estaque soon attained a legendary status among generations of younger artists. Not long after Cezanne’s death, Georges Braque made a pilgrimage to the hamlet, and was immediately struck by the light. “The discovery of his work overturned everything,” he recalled. “I had to rethink everything. I wasn’t alone in suffering from shock. There was a battle to be fought against much of what we knew, what we had tended to respect, admire, or love. In Cezanne’s works we should see not only a new pictorial construction but also—too often forgotten—a new moral suggestion of space” (quoted in A. Danchev, op. cit., 2013, pp. 232-233). To different ends, Henri Matisse, who had likewise experienced the south with the force of a revelation when he journeyed to Collioure in 1905, treasured the lessons of Cezanne, whom he once described as “a sort of god of painting” (“Interview with Jacques Guenne,” 1925, in J. Flam, Matisse on Art, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1995, p. 80). Works from this southern sojourn, including La mer vue de Collioure (The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia) reveal the influence of Cezanne on his imagination, as Matisse simplified the depiction of the landscape and reconstructed it with color alone, in a bold new vision of the world.

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