Of all the themes that preoccupied Cézanne throughout his career, none captivated him with such intensity as the depiction of woods and trees. Françoise Cachin has written, "From the Ile-de-France landscapes of the 1870s 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" (in Cézanne, exh. cat., Philadelphia, 1996, p. 378). He was particularly drawn to the quiet seclusion of wooded motifs during his final decade. As the artist's friend and biographer, Joachim Gasquet, recalled, "He loved trees. Toward the end, with his need for sustained solitude, an olive tree became his friend. The tree's wisdom entered his heart. 'It's a living being,' he said to me one day. 'I love it like an old colleague. I'd like to be buried at its feet'" (in Cézanne, Paris, 1921, pp. 72-73).
Route tournante, which Cézanne painted around 1900, depicts a gently curving road alongside a rocky outcropping covered with a dense mass of trees. The motif of a path leading into a composition is one that Cézanne had explored repeatedly since the 1870s. He had likely learned it from his Impressionist mentor Pissarro, for whom it was a favorite perspectival device (see lot 13). The exact site depicted in the present painting has never been identified. However, as Joseph Rishel has written, "Cézanne's works are always about something. They have a physical subject, a specific place or tree or apple, observed and recorded under specific circumstances, even if we cannot identify it" (in Cézanne, exh. cat., Philadelphia, 1996, p. 250). From the 1890s onward, Cézanne frequently painted in the vast, isolated landscape east of Aix, particularly favoring the Le Tholonet road leading toward the Château Noir and Mont Saint-Victoire (see lot 32). The road is noteworthy for its frequent twists and turns, and it is possible that the present work depicts a spot along this route. Rishel has written about a closely related watercolor (Rewald, no. 538; Pierpont Morgan Library, New York):
"The way the road hugs the hill, as well as the sharp changes in elevation, suggests a point somewhere along the Tholonet road on the way to the Château Noir. However, nearly all of Cézanne's depictions of the area have a contained and rather mysterious quality, like the hidden and isolated nature of the place itself. This bend in the road, by contrast, is completely open and airy, pulsating with a verdancy and an animation perhaps foreign to the Aix landscape. Wherever this place was, it triggered in Cézanne a particularly forceful surge of creative energy" (ibid., p. 457).