Painted in 1882, Ferme en Normandie, été (Hattenville) is the largest of a series of four works that Paul Cézanne created during a summer sojourn at the home of his friend, the legendary impressionist collector Victor Chocquet, in Hattenville, Normandy. Chocquet, one of the first ardent champions and earliest collectors of Impressionism, was also the first owner of this painting and it remained in his collection until his death. Painted at a time when Cézanne was reaching artistic maturity, Ferme en Normandie, été (Hattenville) exemplifies a crucial moment in the artist’s career, illustrating his move from Impressionism towards his own distinctive and highly influential ‘constructed’ style. With an array of fresh and verdant green tones, the scene is an evocative, poetic vision of a quiet corner of a rural garden bathed in the blissful golden light of a summer’s day. Yet this is not a fleeting depiction of a transitory moment, but is rather a carefully considered and constructed composition, which transforms this pastoral landscape into a timeless, enduring image, qualities which lay at the very heart of Cézanne’s artistic practice.
Victor Chocquet, who was an official at the customs office in Paris, had a passion for collecting art, initially the work of the 19th-century romantic artist, Delacroix, whom he deeply admired. His first exposure to Impressionism came in 1875, a year after the first impressionist group exhibition had been held. Discovering Renoir’s work, Chocquet commissioned him to paint a portrait of his wife. It was Renoir who subsequently introduced Chocquet to Cézanne. As Renoir later recalled, ‘As soon as I met Monsieur Chocquet, I thought about having him buy a Cézanne! I accompanied him to père Tanguy’s, where he took a small Study of Nudes. He was delighted with his acquisition, and, while we were returning to his home, [he remarked]: “How well that will go between a Delacroix and a Courbet!”’ (Renoir, quoted in F. Cachin et al., Cézanne, exh. cat., Paris, London and Philadelphia, 1996, p. 167). Chocquet, or père Chocquet, as Renoir liked to call him, quickly began to acquire Cézanne’s work, as well as that of Renoir, Monet and Pissarro, amongst others, and fast became one of the first consistent impressionist collectors and a central supporter at a time when much of the public strongly derided their work. Chocquet and Cézanne became great, lifelong friends, primarily united by their shared love and admiration for Delacroix, whom the artist described as ‘the intermediary’ between them.
At the time of Chocquet’s death in 1891, he owned over thirty works by Cézanne. When his wife died eight years later, in 1899, Chocquet’s collection, including Ferme en Normandie, été (Hattenville), was sold in a public auction in Paris at the Galerie Georges Petit. The sale of Chocquet’s exceptional collection generated a great deal of excitement in Paris: ‘A great artistic event is in view’, Camille Pissarro wrote to his son, Lucien, ‘père Chocquet having died, as well as his widow, his collection is going to be dispersed at auction. There are thirty-two first-rate Cézannes, some Monets, some Renoirs… The Cézannes will go very high’ (Pissarro, quoted in J. Rewald, Studies in Impressionism, London, 1985, p. 162).
In March 1882, the year Ferme en Normandie, été (Hattenville) was painted, Chocquet’s wealthy mother-in-law died, leaving a considerable inheritance to her only daughter and sole heir, which included a large farmhouse and several other properties in and around the small village of Hattenville in Normandy. Able to give up his administrative job, Chocquet and his wife moved to Hattenville, dividing their time between this rural country retreat and their apartment on the rue de Rivoli in Paris. Chocquet invited Cézanne, and most likely his family – his soon-to-be wife, Hortense, who was said to be close to Madame Chocquet, and their son, Paul – to stay in the summer of 1882. Amidst these pleasant surroundings, Cézanne painted Ferme en Normandie, été (Hattenville), and three other landscapes: Le Verger (Hattenville) (Rewald 506), Le Clos normand (Hattenville) (Rewald 507), and another of the same title as the present work (Rewald 508). All of these works depict, as John Rewald has described, ‘the short-stemmed, wind-beaten apple trees that to this day surround the low, whitewashed cottages of Normandy farms’ (J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, The Texts, London, 1996, p. 343), and in the present work, the Chocquet’s farmhouse is just visible behind the screen of trees. Each of these Hattenville landscapes were in Chocquet’s collection; probably either purchased from the artist or gifted to him.
By 1882, the year that Cézanne painted Ferme en Normandie, été (Hattenville), the artist had become increasingly self-assured and confident about his abilities and aims as an artist; in the words of John Rishel, with works of the early 1880s, the artist had ‘reached artistic maturity’ (J. Rishel in F. Cachin et al., op. cit., p. 229). About a decade earlier, under the influence of Pissarro, whom Cézanne described as being ‘like a father’ to him, the artist had left behind the dark, dramatic scenes of his early work and converted to the light filled, loosely rendered style of his impressionist contemporaries. Immersing himself in nature and in the depiction of the landscape, Cézanne however soon developed a style and technique that contrasted with that of Pissarro, Monet, and others. Impressionism was too transitory, too fleeting to successfully achieve his desire to transcribe a direct perception of nature. He wanted to capture the structure, the essence and the sensation of the subject in front of him, scrutinising it and understanding it as a combination of forms, planes and colours; as the artist later declared, ‘I wanted to make of Impressionism something solid and enduring like the art in museums’ (Cézanne, quoted in F. Baumann, ed., Cézanne and the Dawn of Modern Art, exh. cat., Essen, 2004-05, p. 114). By the late 1870s, the artist was moving away from the impressionist group itself, no longer exhibiting with them, and spending longer periods of time away from Paris, retreating to his home in Aix-en-Provence.
In search for a more durable and lasting style, Cézanne had begun to develop, particularly in his landscapes, a bold and distinctive new way of looking and painting nature – as exemplified by Ferme en Normandie, été (Hattenville). Cézanne has transformed the scene into patches of colour rendered in places with short, parallel, ‘comma-like’ brushstrokes. These so-called ‘constructive strokes’ are one of the most emblematic characteristics of Cézanne’s painting, acting as a means for him to construct and structure the landscape and endow the scene with a sense of solidity. Cézanne analysed the forms and colours of nature, their relationship and their pictorial effects; as he explained, ‘There are two things in the painter: the eye and the brain. The two must co-operate; one must work for the development of both, but as a painter: of the eye through the outlook on nature, of the brain through the logic of organised sensations which provide the means of expression’ (Cézanne, quoted in J. Rewald, Paul Cézanne, London, n. d., p. 117). Although at first glance the composition appears as a gesturally rendered scene of verdant vegetation, it is in fact carefully composed: the thin, elegantly rendered tree trunks and branches in the centre of the foreground create an arch that leads the viewer’s eye through the painting to the white walls of the farmhouse behind.
With the variously angled, textured brushstrokes, in Ferme en Normandie, été (Hattenville), Cézanne has gradually built up a mosaic of varied colour, using myriad tones of green and blue to capture the delicate nuances of the softly sun-dappled, abundant foliage of the garden. ‘I proceed very slowly’, Cézanne explained, ‘for nature reveals herself to me in [a] very complex form and constant progress must be made. One must see one’s model correctly and experience it in the right way and furthermore express oneself with distinction and strength’ (Rewald, ibid., p. 121). The combination of short, parallel brushstrokes which can be seen in the foliage and in areas of the grassy foreground, and the looser, less defined areas of colour, lends Ferme en Normandie, été (Hattenville) a sense of lightness and spontaneity that contrasts with many other paintings of this time. It is this technique that enabled Cézanne to transform a transient moment in time into something durable and serene, presenting the intricacies of the forms, colours and plays of light and shade, without losing any of the vivid specificity or freshness of the scene.
When Cézanne was asked what in his opinion, was ‘the ideal of earthly happiness?’, the artist replied simply: ‘To have my own beautiful way of painting’ (Cézanne, ‘Mes Confidences’, in M. Doran, ed., Conversations with Cézanne, Berkeley, 2001, p. 101). Constantly striving for the best means to aptly convey the beauty, grandeur and above all, the truth of the world around him, Cézanne invented a whole new way of looking and painting nature, opening the door for a generation of subsequent artists. Ferme en Normandie, été (Hattenville) with its harmonious interplay of colour, light and form, demonstrates Cézanne’s unique conception of nature and the new visual language that he had mastered to depict it.